As the income gap grows, so do our woes

My favorite think tank, the Economic Policy Institute, has done it again, with a searing report on another way the 1 percent is widening the gap between themselves and the rest of us: “An Epidemic of Wage Theft Is Costing Workers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars a Year.”

When bosses try to squeeze a little extra unpaid time out of hourly workers, by, for example, making them come in and get their work space ready before going on the clock, or requiring them to clean up their work area after the clock has stopped, or failing to pay overtime after they’ve put in 40 hours during the week, that’s wage theft.


EPI used a survey of workers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago to estimate how extensive the problem is. And they found out it’s a whopper. Extrapolating from the survey, their best guess is bosses are shortchanging workers by about $50 billion a year. To put that in perspective, EPI makes this comparison: “All of the robberies, burglaries, larcenies, and motor vehicle thefts in the nation cost their victims less than $14 billion in 2012, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports.”

Now this is bad enough for the workers whose bosses (no longer the outdated cliché of a guy with a cigar and a three piece suit, but the invisible hand of a multi-national corporation run by shareholders and boards and their slick CEOs) steal all these hard-earned dollars from them, but it also has serious consequences for the rest of us. As another EPI researcher reminds us: “…the upward redistribution of wealth also generates an upward distribution of political power that perpetuates inequality.” – Jeff Faux, EPI

2014-09-16-UNIONandINCOMEDECLINESAnd what does the 1% do with all this political power they are accumulating? Well, for one thing, working to kill off the one force that most threatens them, the labor movement. That’s been a prime goal ever since Ronald Reagan crushed the air traffic controllers union in 1981. The consequences continue to be disastrous for all U.S. workers, and surely are a major reason why the income gap continues to grow. EPI calculates it accounts for about 30% of the problem. Also see America Without Unions (EPI, Feb. 2014).

Another plank in the 1% platform is to forestall any action to cut carbon emissions. For example, an American University report, released in July, identified the Koch brothers’ influence on this issue through their Americans for Prosperity organization.  The group’s climate change pledge is seen “as instrumental in stopping members of Congress from voting for climate action” according to a Think Progress report on the Kochs.

And these are just a couple of examples, things that are close to me. There’s much more the ultra-rich would like to attack. Shrink the public sector. Make private schools the rule. Privatize Social Security and Medicare. The list will lengthen and get scarier (see the vision at the end of the America Without Unions piece) unless we can do something about it.

So what gets in their way? An upsurge in activism? A resurgent labor movement? A mass movement to arrest global warming? Hopefully not a series of tragic events, but that could happen, too.

Activism is the key, I believe. But what gets people moving? Anybody got any ideas?

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