By: Bruce W. Both
If you Google “Income Inequality” you’ll get hundreds of blog posts, news stories, info-graphics, videos and academic studies on it’s prevalence throughout the last decade. Everyone seems to have an opinion on why there’s an enormous gap between our rich and working middle class, and the words have become such a “buzz phrase” that politicians cite it in almost every public speech to connect with working, struggling Americans. Politicians stagger audiences with statistics like from Tax Analysts that found incomes of the bottom 90% of Americans grew only $59 (adjusted for inflation) from 1966 to 2011, while incomes for the top 10% rose by $116,071. The numbers are sobering. What you won’t get from politicians however, is the solution. The question still remains, how do we fix it? Or rather, who is willing to fix it?
We all know how to fix income inequality, by raising wages for working Americans. America’s middle class families were (until this year) the most affluent in the world, and are now behind Canada’s middle class families. Wages, growth and our economy has been flat for the middle class for the better part of a decade. President Obama called the income gap the “growing challenge of our time”.
Middle class Americans are paying a high price, for what? A continual rising of income inequality. While our middle class in America continues to plummet, the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many global peers. Although economic growth throughout the United States continues to compete with other countries (and sometimes out-performs them), middle class families aren’t seeing any of the profit, growth or prosperity. A large share of recent income gains in this country flow to a relatively small slice of high-earning households, an overwhelming majority of Americans are not keeping pace with their counterparts around the world.
Out of 141 countries, the U.S. has the 4th-highest degree of wealth inequality in the world, trailing only Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon.
Yet the financial industry keeps creating new wealth for its millionaires. According to the authors of the Global Wealth Report, the world’s wealth has doubled in ten years, from $113 trillion to $223 trillion, and is expected to reach $330 trillion by 2017.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I) recently asked Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen “are we still a capitalist democracy or have we gone over into an oligarchic form of society in which incredible economic and political power now rests with the billionaire class?” These questions must be asked in Washington, and at family dinner tables across America.
Nothing urgently is being done politically to fix these problems that plague the middle class. Switzerland is seeking to pass an initiative to introduce minimum wage at $25 per hour, while in America we are struggling to pass a federal minimum wage initiative for just $10.10 per hour. Something is wrong in Washington, they just don’t get it.
Throughout the last decade the income gap in America has grown. However if we look at the income gap in countries like Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden, the gap has become smaller than it was just a decade ago. They’re taking real action.
The United States has a higher income gap than the UK, Bangladesh and Ethiopia. Why? Because CEOs take home more than anywhere else in the entire world.
In a report coinciding with the recent global Fast-Food strike by the public policy group, Demos, concludes the fast-food industry has the most extreme pay disparity of all the sectors in the U.S. economy, with a CEO-to-worker pay ratio now exceeding 1,000 to 1.
By comparison, the ratio in the retail sector is about 304 to 1, meaning the CEOs in our sector make about 304 times the income of the average worker. And construction company CEOs make about 93 times that of the average worker.
We have the power to take our share.
Recently our union sponsored a screening of the award-winning documentary Inequality for All (inequalityforall.com). The screening was put together by a group of UFCW Local 1500 members in Staten Island. I highly recommend you to watch the inspiring film. I’m thrilled and motivated to know our members are out springing into action, watching films like these to get educated in order to fight back against greed we face every day. The film’s main point is this: The middle class provides 70% of the spending in the U.S., and they are the real job creators—but only if they are given salaries that allow them to be avid consumers, creating demand, jobs and more tax revenue. The rich simply get richer by hoarding their wealth while often taking their investments overseas.
This holds true to our union.
As workers, we are the true power. We are the driving force behind all of our company’s successes. We provide all of the work that fuels company profits, and therefore we must fight for better wages, benefits and securities every day, not just during contract campaigns.
Instead of looking at politicians for solutions to our problems, we already have the solution. We must come together, mobilize, educate, agitate and organize, so we can push our greedy companies back and demand more in return for our work. Mobilized workers in labor unions hold the cure to the growing wage gap that plagues our middle class.