Wednesday, July 1, 2015

When Are American Workers Going To Rebel? Ans. They May Not Have To

The two fold news yesterday, that: 1) the incomes of the lowest 90 percent have risen, and 2) President Obama has lifted the threshold for overtime pay, to past $50,000/yr from where it was, near $24,000/yr. ought to make every American worker who's not an elite, smile.

But hold strain, and let's cap this off with hard facts for a more sober take: According to the WSJ and Denver Post (Business), "families in the bottom 90 percent of income earners saw their incomes increase 2.8 percent  - or about $900 to $33, 068."

But let's now let the other part reveal (ibid.):

"The richest 1 percent of Americans posted a much bigger increase in pay as their incomes soared an average of 10.8 percent to $1,3 million"

Got that? Now process this: in addition the wealthiest 1 percent claimed 21.4 percent of all income.

Obama's executive order on overtime promises to help the  lower 90 percent (well, at least 5 million of them) a little -but not much. To get bearings, recall the old overtime law - since 1971- enabled employers to overwork anyone  in the salaried staff and especially managerial. Right now these managers are only eligible for overtime if they make less than $23,660 a year or $455 a week. In some cases they labor 70 hours a week without being paid for those 30 extra hours.  So it was bad enough these boss man parasites were sucking all your extra time up and they weren't paying anything for it. Under the new rule imposed by Obama, these managers earning up to $50,440 a year would be assured overtime pay.

 As Robert Reich has noted, now these employers will have to either pay up - or hire more workers!

But don't count on them to do either! As one honcho (Jamie Richardson)  from 'White Castle' quoted on the news last night said, it ain't gonna happen! He argued he'd have to find an extra $8 to 12 million a year to pay all that overtime or hire extra workers. Other employers said they'd likely have to cut hours rather than pay more. According to Neil Trautwein of the National Retail Federation:

"There's no magic pot of money in order to pay people more money no matter what government says."

So the American worker looks to not gain much advantage. Now, time for more perspective.

The recent issue of TIME asking the question "What's Your XQ?" - references the brutal batteries of psychological and other tests to which  companies now subject candidates and job applicants, and it ties in perfectly with recent findings on how bad the American workplace really is. I mean we already knew workers were overworked and underpaid and typically left 20 percent of vacation days not taken. But what else?

A new study from Staples Advantage and WorkPlaceTrends — an HR-focused research firm — polled over 2,500 American workers and reached troubling results. According to the data, 53 percent of American workers report feeling burned out at work. (A clue for which might have provided caution to the job applicants cited in the TIME article forced to take a test with 180 questions and lasting over three hours  to ascertain how well they "fit in" with the company's culture.)

But with current god-awful working conditions, it’s easy to see why: from desk jockeys (mainly techies and white collars) being crammed into stupid little cubicles and being subjected to all manner of noise and "team" crap to being hitched to an electronic ether that boss man refuses to relinquish.. In regard to the last, a  2012 study concluded smartphones and tablets enable employers to further colonize a worker’s time to the tune of two extra hours a day since they can be reached at all hours. In 2014, Gallup estimated the typical American workweek was 47 hours, not 40; the American worker was toiling for almost a full extra day. Of the workers this recent study polled, more than half worked a day longer than eight hours. All this makes sense when one considers the antiquated overtime rules to which workers were subject.

According to Dan Schawbel, founder of WorkPlaceTrends, co-author of the study, and author of the New York Times bestselling book 'Promote Yourself:

This isn’t the workplace of 10 years ago.  There’s a lot of pressure. And it’s competitive in the sense that anyone in the world could take your job for less money, so you have to work harder.”

WHY do we have this situation? Again, because of population outpacing job production! So long as the population of a nation exceeds its capacity to create new jobs - and this is getting worse as automation make more workers redundant- then nearly everyone is expendable,  thanks to the vast army of surplus labor created. Any member of this surplus labor army will thus be ready to grab your job if it's too tough for you. Or unless you conform and work harder.

And work harder Americans have. Some work so hard it kills them, like a Bank of America intern who died after working 72 hours straight. Because of this occupational devotion (or occupational desperation), productivity has exploded by over 400 percent since 1950.Yet wages haven’t budged — at least not for most Americans. The richest 1 percent, however, have seen their average income surge by over 240 percent

Incredibly, almost eliciting a head -snapping cognitive dissonance, a vast majority of workers (at 86 percent) still claim to feel "happy and motivated". One must wonder if they are on valium, or some other happy' pills prescribed by a therp-  or just in the throes of serious false consciousness.  A more cynical assessment is this lot has Stockholm syndrome - perhaps engendered from years or decades of work abuse. Now, they act just like kidnapped victims and seek to give glory to their persecutors. Or overlook their heinous exploitation.

According to Schawbel:

My thought is that workers have accepted the new reality of the workplace. A lot of them are just happy to have a job in general…Many workers are just trying to keep their job, and then excel at their job, because it’s not like people are getting paid to work the way they were ten years ago, so you have to play catch up.”

In other words, be prepared to be relentlessly exploited if you want to keep working. that droopy guy in the unemployment line, or worse, at the food kitchen waiting for a handout.
The takeaway is that Americans are so brain dead from what's been done to them they don’t seem concerned as they should be. By comparison, when  Canadian workers were asked about work-life balance, 56 percent cited it as a top concern when looking for work as opposed to only 46 percent of Americans.

But then Canucks have their heads screwed on straight on most issues. For example, you'd never see a poll there like here - perfectly split (42% each side) on whether the Confederate flag is racist.. Of course it is and only a doper, Johnny Reb, idiot or fool would believe otherwise.
But maybe this won't go on much longer and the matter will be taken totally out of Americans' hands, though yeah, there will be kicking and screaming. That is a world, a nation, without any viable or useful work for humans to do. This has been brought up by author Derek Thompson in a recent Atlantic piece, e.g.

 in which he writes, referring to futurist tech gurus:

"When they peer deeply into labor-market data, they see troubling signs, masked for now by a cyclical recovery. And when they look up from their spreadsheets, they see automation high and low—robots in the operating room and behind the fast-food counter. They imagine self-driving cars snaking through the streets and Amazon drones dotting the sky, replacing millions of drivers, warehouse stockers, and retail workers. They observe that the capabilities of machines—already formidable—continue to expand exponentially, while our own remain the same. And they wonder: Is any job truly safe?

Thompson, in a recent CBS Early Show appearance, answered 'NO' for at least 50 percent of American jobs, which will be gone by 2025. Their absence will leave those lower tier (mainly) workers with nothing to do unless they can radically retrain or re-educate to become high end  techies with the skills to seamlessly fit into the new world of work.

CBS' host Gail King, clearly disturbed by this, asked Thompson: "What will they do? How will they live?"

Thompson's answer was to provide all those left out of jobs with a base annual income. Something to keep the "wolf"  from their door. It is also a solution I have discussed before, e.g.

wherein I noted:

"All over the world, sensible and intelligent people are talking guaranteeing basic incomes for citizens as a viable policy.Half of all Canadians want it. The Swiss have had a referendum on it. The American media is all over it: The New York Times’ Annie Lowrey considered basic income as an answer to an economy that leaves too many people behind, while Matt Bruenig and Elizabeth Stoker of The Atlantic wrote about it as a way to reduce poverty.

In his final book, Martin Luther King Jr. suggested that guaranteeing people money without requiring them to do anything in exchange was a good way for Americans to share in prosperity. In the 1960s and early 1970s, many in the U.S. gave the idea serious consideration. Even Richard Nixon supported a version of it"

So, in a short matter of time, the problem of overwork may be solved without the need for pillaged American workers to have to rebel. However, if 50 percent of jobs vanish - owing to automation or whatever as Thompson predicts - we had damned well better have in place a widespread social safety net to catch them - and not just "welfare".

As for what these millions of people will do, Thompson envisages lots of volunteer work, as I do. It won't be as if they are just sitting in a trailer swigging beer and watching moronic daytime soaps.

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