Middle-Class America, Fading Fast

Two alarming reports recently out point to long-term trends in the U.S. economy that don't bode well for maintaining a strong middle class in this nation.

Between 1980 and 2009, labor productivity increased by 78 percent but:

•The median compensation of 35- to 44-year-old male high school graduates (with no college) declined by 10 percent.

•The median compensation of 35- to 44-year-old male college graduates (without graduate degrees) grew by 32 percent, less than one half as much as overall productivity growth.

•Only the median compensation of 35- to 44-year-old men with post-graduate training came close to labor productivity growth increasing by 49 percent.

The above data from the Employment Policy Research Network noted that such an out-of-sync productivity-wage ration resuled in 1 percent of the population living on 21 percent of the nation's total annual earnings in 2009.

Next, an analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the 10 largest occupations in May 2010 accounted for more than 20 percent of total employment. But here's the kicker: Nine out of 10 of these occupations are relatively low-paying jobs, meaning jobs that paid less than the U.S. mean hourly wage of $21.35.

The analysis by the New America Foundation also notes that the:

two largest occupations were retail salespersons and cashiers, employing 7.6 million people and making up almost 6 percent of total U.S. employment. Cashiers' mean hourly wages were $9.52, less than half of the U.S. mean hourly wage, while retail salespersons earned a mean hourly wage of $12.02.

Meanwhile, attacks by state legislators on public employees' right to collectively bargain for a middle-class life is decimating an avenue that enabled many workers to achieve the American Dream.

All the more reason for the timeliness of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka's message on Friday calling for an independent voice for the labor movement. In a major speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Trumka said the ongoing attacks on working people's rights, new efforts at curtailing voting rights and calls for austerity on the backs of seniors, children and the sick are not just mean-spirited politics. They are the battle lines of a moral challenge for the soul of America.

AFL-CIO Now Blog, Tues May 24 2011

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