Working Families Are Getting Poorer

It is no surprise for workers to find out that our wallets have been getting lighter and lighter over the past few years. With the rising cost of goods, the mounting debt, and wages that won’t go up, we know that we’re working more for less. But it is still shocking to see how much less.

According to new data from the Economic Policy Institute, American families on average experienced a 39 percent drop in wealth between 2007 and 2010, and younger families (ages 35-44) saw a 54 percent drop. This is an average loss of about $50,000 per household, sending most working families back to the lowest level since 1992.

Some of that $50,000 loss comes from the decline in home values, which have decreased by an average of 50 percent since 2007. Also, workers lost record amounts from their retirement accounts, averaging from ten to thirty percent since 2007.

But the main reason workers are getting poorer is because they are actually earning less and less. According to the IRS, by 2011, the average income of working families fell $2,699 since 2000.  That’s the equivalent of losing a month’s worth of income. Since 2000, wages have gone down about 4.3 percent. Today most wages are at the same level as in 1999, with half of workers earning less than $507 a week. And the bottom 50 million workers averaged only $116 a week in 2010.

If wages would have simply stayed at the level they were in 2000 and not gone down during this time, Americans would have had about $3.5 trillion more, about $26,000 per tax payer. That was money we should have earned. But it didn’t just disappear.

During the same period, the richest 1 percent have been the only ones getting richer. Just in 2010 alone, their income increased by more than 12 percent. And for the last three months of 2011, they became $554 billion richer. And while workers have been earning less per week, corporations have been earning more. For the top 500 U.S. corporations, profits have increased 23 percent since before the crisis hit in 2007.

Everywhere, the bosses are taking advantage of this crisis for themselves. With so many workers out of work, desperate to find jobs, the bosses have gone on the offensive. Where workers are seeing more misery, the bosses see an opportunity to make even more money.

In May, there were officially about 23 million workers, or 14.8 percent, who were unemployed or what is called “underemployed” (it means workers with a part-time job that doesn’t pay enough, and so they are looking for another one). But in fact, the real number is much higher, estimated to be about 30 million people who are jobless or underemployed – that’s about one out of five workers.

But the number of job openings each month has not made any major dent in the number of unemployed since 2007. On average, given any month, there are only 3.4 million job openings for about 30 million people who need work – that’s ten applicants for every new job.

So this is the current situation workers find ourselves in. Wherever we work, we are facing greedy bosses anxious to take advantage of the desperation that workers are in. The bosses want to lay more of us off, or threaten us with lay offs. They tell us we are lucky to even have jobs. Then they want to dump the rest of the work onto fewer workers while they cut our wages at the same time. If they do hire new workers, the bosses are doing their best to make sure it is for a part-time or temporary position, making less than the previous workers.

Our poverty, our uncertainty, our desperation – to the bosses, all of it is just a chance to make more and more money. To the bosses, the lives of workers are nothing more than dollar signs.