June 19, 2012
Image: Job applicants wait during a weekly job fair sponsored by the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency job fair in Atlanta, Georgia, June 5, 2012.
Job applicants wait during a weekly job fair sponsored by the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency job fair in Atlanta, Georgia, earlier this month. Americans fortunate enough to have a job are often overqualified and find that wages and benefits are down, leaving many unable to meet their daily living expenses.

Throughout the Great Recession and the not-so-great recovery, the most commonly discussed measure of misery has been unemployment. But many middle-class and working-class people who are fortunate enough to have work are struggling as well, which is why Sherry Woods, a 59-year-old van driver from Atlanta, found herself standing in line at a jobs fair this month, with her résumé tucked inside a Bible. She opened it occasionally to reread a favorite verse from Philippians: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ.” Ms. Woods’s current job has not been meeting her needs. When she began driving a passenger van last year, she earned $9 an hour and worked 40 hours a week. Then her wage was cut to $8 an hour, and her hours were drastically scaled back.

Last month she earned just $233. So Ms. Woods, who said that she had been threatened with eviction for missing rent payments and had been postponing an appointment with the eye doctor because she lacks insurance, has been looking for another, better job. It has not been easy. “I’m looking for something else, anything else,” she said. “More hours. Better pay. Actual benefits.” These are anxious days for American workers. Many, like Ms. Woods, are underemployed. Others find pay that is simply not keeping up with their expenses: adjusted for inflation, the median hourly wage was lower in 2011 than it was a decade earlier, according to data from a forthcoming book by the Economic Policy Institute, “The State of Working America, 12th Edition.” Good benefits are harder to come by, and people are staying longer in jobs that they want to leave, afraid that they will not be able to find something better.


Only 2.1 million people quit their jobs in March, down from the 2.9 million people who quit in December 2007, the first month of the recession. “Unfortunately, the wage problems brought on by the recession pile on top of a three-decade stagnation of wages for low- and middle-wage workers,” said Lawrence Mishel, the president of the Economic Policy Institute, a research group in Washington that studies the labor market. “In the aftermath of the financial crisis, there has been persistent high unemployment as households reduced debt and scaled back purchases. The consequence for wages has been substantially slower growth across the board, including white-collar and college-educated workers.” Now, with the economy shaping up as the central issue of the presidential election, both President Obama and Mitt Romney have been relentlessly trying to make the case that their policies would bring prosperity back.

The unease of voters is striking: in a New York Times/CBS News poll in April, half of the respondents said they thought the next generation of Americans would be worse off, while only about a quarter said it would have a better future. And household wealth is dropping. The Federal Reserve reported last week that the economic crisis left the median American family in 2010 with no more wealth than in the early 1990s, wiping away two decades of gains. With stocks too risky for many small investors and savings accounts paying little interest, building up a nest egg is a challenge even for those who can afford to sock away some of their money. Expenses like putting a child through college — where tuition has been rising faster than inflation or wages — can be a daunting task. When Morgan Woodward, 21, began her freshman year at the University of California, Berkeley, three years ago, her parents paid about $9,000 a year in tuition and fees.



Now they pay closer to $13,000, and they are bracing for the possibility of another jump next year. With their incomes flat, though, they recently borrowed money to pay for her final year, and to begin paying the tuition of their son, who plans to start college this fall. “You know there is going to be small incremental increases in tuition, but not the 8, 10, 12 percent increase every year we’ve seen,” said Ms. Woodward’s father, Cliff Woodward, 52, who lives in Pleasanton, Calif., and is an independent sales representative for an eyeglass company. So the Woodwards, who drive cars with 150,000 and 120,000 miles on them, have cut back. “No vacations, no big screens,” Mr. Woodward said. “We’ve cut down on going out a little bit, but it’s worth it.” People with college degrees still get jobs with better pay and benefits than those without, but many recent college graduates are finding it hard to land the kinds of jobs they had envisioned.

David Thande, 27, who graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, five years ago, works part time as a clerk in an Apple Store. “I’m not even full time, so I spend about 45 minutes every day begging people for hours, checking if someone canceled, struggling to make it work,” Mr. Thande said, adding that he had fallen behind on paying back his student loans. Garland Miller, 28, who has degrees in finance and accounting from the University of Georgia and Kennesaw State University, had hoped to land a job at a big accounting firm, and to have been able to buy a home by now. Instead he finds himself working as the lead server at a steakhouse. But he has not given up on trying to move into the field that he prepared himself for: This month, he attended a jobs fair in Duluth, a suburb of Atlanta,



organized by the University of Georgia for its alumni. “I’m not in a job where I’m using all of my skills,” Mr. Miller said. He said that with many baby boomers unable to retire as early as they had hoped, there are fewer opportunities for younger workers to move up and take their places. “Instead you have everybody competing for entry-level positions,” he said. Things are much worse for people without college degrees, though. The real entry-level hourly wage for men who recently graduated from high school fell to $11.68 last year, from $15.64 in 1979, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute. And the percentage of those jobs that offer health insurance has plummeted to 22.8 percent, from 63.3 percent in 1979. Though inflation has stayed relatively low in recent years, it has remained high for some of the most important things: college, health care and even, recently, food.



The price of food in the home rose by 4.8 percent last year, one of the biggest jumps in the last two decades. Sam Chea, 38, who lives in Oakland and works nights delivering pizzas for Domino’s, said that he had been feeling the pinch at grocery stores, and worried that his lack of a college education was making it harder for him to find decent work. The other day he went to the nearby city of El Cerrito to apply for a second job at Nation’s Giant Hamburgers, a regional chain. “I’ll be more secure with another job,” he said. “It’s scary. I don’t have an education, and I’m worried about my rent.” “Everything’s gone up. Rent went up, gas went up, food went up, milk went up, cheeseburgers went up, even cigarettes went up,” said Mr. Chea, who had stopped at the barbershop to spiff up before his job interview. “I’m used to getting a haircut for $6 or $7, but they charged me $9. Even haircuts have gone up.”

Michael Cooper



Chuck Wrote – I have been on all sides of this fence. I have worked for union shops. I didn’t like it, as I though it held me back from being the best I could be. I have worked for non union places and found that I got better pay then union places but no benefits. I have owned my own company and couldn’t afford insurance for myself let alone my workers. What has happened to us in 2007 was that we kept thinking we could just keep raising the price of our Autos and everything else while our wadges kept falling. Gas prices have so much to do with our economy. So if we get a job we can’t afford to get to because of hi gas prices. This thing we call free market, don’t work because it isn’t free at all. It is fixed, prices are rigged. Look at our food. The farmer takes all the risk, does all the work,


and can’t get enough from what he grows to pay the bills. But then comes the middle men. All they do is move paper work and they make all the money. They do the least and make the most. How is that fair. Our system is broken and its the rich that keep getting richer while we get poorer. The point about education is spot on. Look what a good education did for Mitten Romney. It tough him how to steal from the working people. He got people to invest there money to buy healthy company’s that had well funded retirements, steal that money, and let the tax payers pick up the bill. When you have money, you can brake any law and get away with it. This happened to Eastern Airlines in the late 70’s or so. He did the same thing. How can that not against the law.

Willys Wrote – Its easy for someone HIGH UP the chain who never lost their job to say someone else that doesent have something is lazy. Its one of those things where people comment either way but in the back of their head they are either laughing at less fortunate people or theyre thinking thank god its not them. A lot of people that failed in life didn’t even get a chance to succeed. That’s a big part of why some areas have so much crime. Folks acting out in anger & so on. So until every single american can start off with a “silver spoon” then saying someones lazy isnt a valid assessment! Suds in Denver Wrote – I live within my means. Always have. But add being under-employed and underpaid after working for over 35 years to the picture with no health insurance and now I am labeled lazy.


I used to say that I would not wish this on anyone but now I want all of the people who so easily point fingers and scream “Lazy” to experience this same nightmare. I do not feel entitled. I just want a decent job. Until then the economy be damned as I cannot spend one penny to contribute to its recovery for anything other then essentials. Meanwhile I keep getting letters from politicians wanting donations. Give me a f**king break.Chuck Wrote – BK your post is so far off. The biggest cost of welfare is company’s like Walmart. They hire everyone part time so they don’t have to pay for Health Insurance. So these people depend on the Government for Health Insurance. A lot of these people live on welfare because they are underemployed. Walmart is working the system so they can make more money for themselves. Company’s like Bain capital did the same thing. Steal the retirement of people and let the government pick up the bill.

These people worked all there life’s for that retirement. and just when they are ready to retire, somehow that money isn’t there. Walstreet misused that money and it was lost. Isn’t it funny that the rich never loose there money when there is a crash. Only working people’s money is lost. And Is that money lost, I think not, Its stolen. Someone has that money. The question is Who has it. The Answer it the rich people stole it. Didn’t we just see that in 2007. Larry Wrote – Sorry BK but you’re wrong saying the right doesn’t blame the working poor. Read any of these types of articles where those on the right bitch about those 50% of americans who pay no taxes. They rant that those who don’t make enough to pay federal taxes are just lazy and dont have skin in the game. And just FYI the so called welfare class hasn’t existed since Clinton passed laws putting life time caps on welfare and tightened who qualified.


Maybe the reason there are so many more working poor has something to do with the millions who lost their jobs in 2008 from the economic meltdown. Obama hasn’t done anything to increase welfare, food stamps or medicaid the meltdown did. T.Jefferson Wrote – This is a boom time for business in terms of profits earned. Corporations are sitting on top of two to three trillion dollars and not investing it to any substantial degree. That is a well known fact. Next, business continues to cut salaries and cut back employees while simultaneously telling those remaining to take on additional tasks or be released. After all, they are told, there are people waiting in line for your jobs. Then, FOX and the Republican Party continues their unrelenting attack against unions and Progressivism for absolute political and economic control of the United States by corporate America. To do that, they have successfully employed NIxon’s 1968 Southern Strategy to bring masses of white, underclass, blue collar workers to their cause,

a strategy Democrats thought could never be pried loose from the coalition FDR put together in the 1930s. The Democrats simply have not understood the deep seated anger many in the working classes (both Democrat and Republican) continue to hold against the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s. Much of that anger is directed personally against this black President and any policy he may propose even to the extent that such policy may be beneficial to the working classes and the Republic. How else do you explain a white, working class who supports a social Darwinist, lassiez faire economic theory advocated by Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan who argue that all government aid and policies should benefit the wealthy since they are the leaders of the social order and no government support of any kind should be extended to the middle and underclasses since they are the servant class who waste taxpayer dollars?


Yet, we find not only the wealthy supporting such an economic theory butressed by FOX, their Ministry of Propaganda, but many of those in the white, blue collar, working classes as well.Einstein Wrote – Right on. The republicans whip up the base with God, guns, and gays. Works every time. They accuse democrats of fomenting class envy, but they systematically demonize unions and the middle class wages they provide. One day these rubes will wake up and realize they’ve been snookered, but it will be too late. Truly a race to the bottom. Brother, can you spare a dime? InOtherNews Wrote – Who knew this could happen? All we did was let a bunch of corrupt politicians and their benefactors exploit our military like it was their own private army. All we did was eat up all the garbage that the media (which is a business-owned by said benefactors) fed us. All we did was go on with our merry lives while the victims of the countries we have invaded cried out for justice. Hey, I am not saying its our fault. If we had protested,

we would have realized just how democratic this country is. We would have realized what slave labor we are. But at least we would have stood up for what is right. At least we would have let ourselves do the thinking, rather than letting our slavemasters do it for us. At least other people would have given a crap about our current predicament. At least we would have still had hope. Mike Wrote – The economic problems that face our country go way beyond anything our political leaders can do. It is not a liberal or conservative problem. The economy is suffering from a lack of aggregate demand. That is a result of decades of middle income jobs going overseas and being eliminated by technology. If there was a way of getting those jobs back, someone would have come up with it. We can only hope that eventually the rising costs of employment in China and other places will lead to jobs coming back here.


Blaming the political leaders is convenient, but untimately useless. Heidi Wrote – Agreed. With an open global economy, the American worker is now in competion with the Worlds work force for wages and benefits. To make matters worse, robotic automation is replacing the human worker. Soon robots will be smarter, faster, stronger, work harder 24/7 with no complaining or health demands. Imagine 4 or 5 billion workers displaced by robots. That is the workers future. Something is going to give out. Going-toCosta-Rica Wrote – If your argument were true, then Germans would also be losing jobs and be experiencing reduced pay. But Germans are not losing out in this world economy – why? – because their leaders did not sell out their countrymen with the so-called ‘free-trade deals’. NAFTA and their ilk benefit the wealthy elite in this country, but screw everyone else. Most people would rather have a decent paying job than be able to purchase cheap t-shirts. RTP Wrote –

Germany has strong unions and “socialist” programs. When a nation’s wealth is not concentrated to just a few at the top, the economy soars. The opposite of what conservatives are preaching. America’s hayday was when we had strong worker unions in the 50’s plus a manufacturing base. And the fact that we didn’t have to compete with Germany and Japan certainly helped. Larry Wrote – So i guess we should just content ourselves to be willing to compete with 9 year old slaves in India or Chinese workers making $1 an hour. How dare them nasty unions expect american workers to be paid a living wage. China protects it’s industry as we once did until businessmen like Romney helped remove trade and tarriff protections in the name of free trade even with countries who don’t reciprocate. Amazing those on the right think we should turn our country into a third world country so our tycoons can make a better profit. Interesting you point out how many working poor we have paying no federal taxes when it’s people who think like you that created them.




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