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Academic workers strike at the UC Berkeley in California, United States on November 16, 2022. (Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Midterm Mayhem and the Economy for Working People

Our country continues on a trajectory that corrodes its best spiritual and secular values. This occurs while a tiny number of oligarchs manipulate and deceive working people into voting against their own economic interests.

Bruce T. Boccardy

The midterm elections are about over. The Democrats will retain power in the Senate and the Republicans won the House.

The United States economy is controlled and facilitated by a group of similarly wealthy oligarchs. Their goal is simple—retain as much economic power as possible.

Both parties in the Senate and House dominate the political economy to the virtual exclusion of any alternate party that may or may not express fealty to our economic model. Both parties are driven by enormous contributions primarily from a small coterie of people in the dominant economic class called "oligarchs." 

Oligarchs originated in early Greek society, but became associated with immensely wealthy businessmen in Russia. 

The United States economy is controlled and facilitated by a group of similarly wealthy oligarchs. Their goal is simple- retain as much economic power as possible. The numbers show they are succeeding in that endeavor and working people are not. 

Our political system pays homage to "democracy." It is reminiscent of a response from Mahatma Gandhi, the  anti-colonial, spiritual and political leader of India in the early and mid 1900's. When asked by a journalist what he thought of Western Civilization, Mr. Gandhi is said to have replied, " I think it would be a good idea."

This sentiment is applicable to the political system in the United States.  

 Election Ennui

The relentless barrage of political advertisements are mercifully over for the time being. It was striking how the usual misrepresentations, oversimplifications, and fabrications of past political campaigns were replaced by a cavalcade of blatant lies. They were euphemistically referred to as "misinformation or "disinformation' by the corporate media.

Then Trump

The introduction of Donald J. Trump into the political system guaranteed that civility, bi-partisanship and impartiality would be reduced to fondly remembered remnants of the past. It is plausible that when these characteristics were ripped, torn and shredded by Mr. Trump, the veneer of free market policies vanished and the underlying dynamics of economic class conflict were exposed. 

Working people may now consider what is actually behind the intense, pathological political divisions in the country. 

Scapegoating, replete with group hatred, chronic rancor and personal meanness eventually becomes stale and loses credibility.

Moreover, many peer reviewed studies conclude that human beings choose cooperation when social constructs are created. This contradicts claims made by those in Mr. Trump's universe who promote the exact opposite. It escapes these folks that acceptance of others does not necessarily mean agreement. This is Psych. 101.

Perhaps Mr. Trump unwittingly did the country a favor. He exacerbated divisions in the country into unyielding cartoonish, political demarcations. The hyperbole was so extreme that the always present underlying economic forces, largely ignored by the corporate media, are now more recognizable.

The usual scapegoats-racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, labor unions, women's healthcare, "Big Government" and the LGBT demographic were presented in scurrilous, irrational and relentless torrents. It is reasonable speculation that the threshold of believability was crossed so often by official MAGA sycophants  that it was rejected by many voters. The same ones who at one time might have voted for many of Mr. Trump's candidates, did not this time.

Economic Tree

Healthcare, housing, education, food insecurity, the environment, transportation, and technological assistance are essential branches of our economic tree. However, the most important issue in our country is still the basics in the economy.

Evidence of the failures of our economic model substantiates the view that the overwhelming majority of middle-working class and working-class Americans are increasingly strained. These burdens are not new or unique, but reflect a decades long decline.

Consider the dashboard of the following areas:

Unemployment

The Ludwig Institute for Shared Prosperity (LISEP) is a nonprofit organization that reports economic research to understand the economic travails of middle and low income families. 

LISEP tracked the percentage of the labor force that does not work at a full-time job, but wants one or does not earn a living wage calculated at $20,000 a year before taxes.

They reported this November that the percentage of functionally unemployed Americans in September was actually 22.3 percent.

Shadow Government Statistics (SGS) is a nonprofit organization that analyzes data from government and private sector reports.

 SGS calculated an unemployment rate that included long-term discouraged workers, who were defined out of  existence in 1994 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This alteration obviously and dramatically lowered the BLS unemployment rate.

SGS included that demographic and reported this November that the unemployment rate in October was actually 24.5 percent. 

Underemployment

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) is a nonprofit organization committed to advancing policy solutions to improve the lives of Americans with low incomes.

CLASP created a measure of underemployment wider in scope than the BLS. It included part-time workers who wanted more work hours, not just those who wanted a full-time job. 

They released a report in August 2020 using this more inclusive measure. It showed an underemployment rate of nine point five percent which was double the rate of the BLS measure. 

This number rose again in the spring of 2020, due to the crisis in labor markets precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, these low-wage job sectors disproportionately employed women and minorities.

EMSI/Burning Glass Technologies (now Lightcast) is a company concerned with market analytics. They collaborated with the Strada Institute for the Future of Work, a company that addresses the nature of work and ecosystems. 

They released a report in May 2018; It concluded that four in 10 college graduates who were underemployed in their first job could not advance from that job.

Employees who were initially underemployed were five times more likely to remain so after five years than those who were not underemployed in their first job. 

Even after 10 years, three-quarters of employees who were underemployed after five years remained underemployed. 

This astonishing report presented compelling evidence that the working middle class is also subject to the consequences of our economic model.

Income

Wages and salaries continue to fall behind the inflation rate caused primarily by corporate gouging of prices as proven in a report released this November by the Groundwork Collaborative.

Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the struggles of low income households. These households earn above the Federal Poverty Level, but not enough to afford a basic household budget.  

ALICE reported in 2018 that 42 percent of American households could not afford the basic necessities of housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, a smartphone or tax payments.

Wealth

Statista is a company that measures corporate and financial data. According to a report released this November, 68 percent of the total wealth in the United States was owned by the top 10 percent of the population. In comparison, the lowest 50 percent owned only 3.2 percent.

The Congressional Budget Office released a report this September that showed the poorest half of Americans owned only 2 percent of the country's total wealth

The top 10 percent owned 72 percent and the top 1 percent owned 34 percent. 

These numbers when translated into the lives of Americans present an alarming decay of our economic model  Hundreds of millions of people are facing a decline in their living standards.

Our Economic Model

Pundits including academics, scholars, journalists, and the clergy search for reasons why Americans are suffering economically. Their remedies chronically fail as every four to seven years an economic crisis occurs.

Our country continues on a trajectory that corrodes its best spiritual and secular values. This occurs while a tiny number of oligarchs manipulate and deceive working people into voting against their own economic interests. 

For example, in Massachusetts, a ballot question this  narrowly passed as a constitutional amendment. It levied a fair share tax on the meager number of those with million dollar incomes; more importantly, it guaranteed that the revenue would fund education and transportation issues in the state.

An element of the bill stated that homes selling for one million dollars were subject to the tax. The bill contained a $500,000 tax deduction. 

In effect, a home would have to be sold for $1.5 million to be subject to the tax. Those familiar with home prices in the 212 communities in the Commonwealth knew that the number of homes reaching that price would be zero to five in most cities and towns. Yet, an inordinately large number of working people voted against the initiative.

It's not difficult to understand why.

Massive amounts of money poured into advertisements representing the economic interests of the state's oligarchs. Shamefully, working people were deceived and manipulated into voting against it.             

The multi-headed hydra that has a financial stranglehold on our political system must be legislated out of existence. It must be relegated to the rubbish bin of economic injustice.

This will not be achieved by so-called manufactured "woke" awakenings, but rather by concrete political programs and policies. Otherwise the lives of the working many will continue to be subjugated to the avaricious few.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Bruce Boccardy

Bruce T. Boccardy

Bruce T. Boccardy serves as an Economics & Labor Advisor for Small Planet Institute, was president of the Massachusetts Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 888, represented labor on the Massachusetts Joint Labor-Management Committee (JLMC), serving firefighters and police and consulted to the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE).

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