Workers Unite

Americans are not happy. And for good reason: We continue to suffer financial stress caused by decades of flat income. On top of that, every time we make the slightest suggestion that the system might be working in our favor, the rich and powerful tell us to shut up because it’s actually all our own fault.

The one percenters tell us to just work harder, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and stop bellyaching. Just get a second college degree, a second skill, a second job. Just send the spouse to work, downsize, and take a staycation instead of a real vacation. Or better yet, don’t take one at all, just work harder and longer and better.

The barrage of blaming has worked, workers believe they deserve censure, and that’s a big part of the reason so many are unhappy. If only, they think, they could work harder and longer and better, they would get ahead. They bear the shame. They don’t blame the system: the Supreme Court, the Congress, the president. And yet, it is the system, the American system, which has conspired to crush everyone who isn’t already rich and/or powerful.

Sure, unemployment is low and the stock market is up. But skyrocketing stocks benefit only the top 10 percent of Americans who own 84 percent of stocks. And while more people are employed now than during the Great Recession, the vast majority of Americans haven’t had a real raise since 1979. Forty years ago!

But if Americans would just work harder, everything would be dandy, right?

No. Not right. Americans already work really, really hard. A third of Americans work a side hustle, driving an Uber or selling crafts on Etsy. American workers take fewer vacation days. They get 14, but typically take only 10. The highest number of workers in five years report they don’t expect to take a vacation at all this year. And Americans work longer hours than their counterparts in other countries.

Americans labor 137 more hours (almost 3 ½ weeks) per year than Japanese workers, 260 (6 ½ weeks) more than Brits, and 499 more hours (12 ½ weeks!) than the French, according to the International Labor Organization.

The longer hours aren’t because American workers are laggards on the job either. They’re very productive. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that the average American worker’s productivity has increased 400 percent since 1950!

If pay had kept pace with productivity, as it did in the three decades after the end of World War II, American workers would be making 400 percent more. But they’re not. Wages have flatlined for four decades when adjusted for inflation.

That means stress. Forty percent of workers say they don’t have $400 for an unexpected expense. Twenty percent can’t pay all of their monthly bills. More than a quarter of adults skipped needed medical care last year because they couldn’t afford it. A quarter of adults have no retirement savings.

Despite the right-wing’s attempts to pound that into Americans’ heads, it’s not the solution. Americans are clearly working harder and longer and better. The solution is to change the system, which is stacked against workers.

Workers are bearing on their backs tax breaks that benefit only the rich and corporations. They’re bearing overtime pay rules and minimum wage rates that haven’t been updated in more than a decade. They’re weighted down by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that hobble unionization efforts and kneecapped workers’ rights to file class-action lawsuits. They’re struggling under U.S. Department of Labor rules defining them as independent contractors instead of staff members. They live in fear as corporations threaten to offshore their jobs.

The administration, the Supreme Court, and right-wingers in Congress grovel before corporations and the rich. Look at the tax break they gave one percenters in 2017. Corporations got the biggest cut in history, their rate sledgehammered down from 35 percent to 21 percent. That doesn’t even take into account loopholes and other dodges that corporations use. Last month, it was widely reported that dozens of the largest American companies paid zero taxes on their profits.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers predicted the corporate tax cut would put an extra $4,000 in every worker’s pocket. They claimed that corporations would use their tax cut money to hand out raises and bonuses to workers. That didn’t happen. Just as many critics of the tax bill predicted. It was an easy prediction because corporate tax cuts have never led to increased wages for employees outside of the executive officer tier. Workers on average received a big fat extra $6.21 in their paychecks, for an annual total of a whopping $233. Corporations actually spent their tax breaks on stock buybacks, a record $1 trillion worth, artificially inflating their stock prices, which put more money in the pockets of rich CEOs and shareholders.

AOC Dares to Exist Again

My favorite representative, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, just can’t catch a break when it comes to conservatives and their hit campaigns. The most recent one? Her credit score.

Seriously.

The claims, which Snopes had to take time out of their day to clarify, are completely false. They went viral after Trump supporter John LeFevre tweeted them out on Thursday:

“@aoc has a 430 credit score, two evictions, and an empty résumé

Just two months ago, she couldn’t afford an apartment in DC

Now, the Democratic leadership has put her on the Financial Services Committee & the media is saying that her Green New Deal will “reshape” the economy”

It’ s not clear where he got that (seemingly incorrect) information, but many speculate that it came from a January 16 Facebook post by a user named “ Donn Johnson.” Snopes explains in their debunking post that it’s likely impossible “Johnson” could have gotten this information about Ocasio-Cortez, even if it were true.

The half-assed hot takes are endless. If AOC is not being accused of secretly being rich, she’s being mocked for discussing the high relocation costs associated with moving to D.C. If people aren’t alleging that pictures of her feet are circulating the internet (they’re not), they’re debating whether or not it’s appropriate that the Congresswoman once danced in a university video. She’s somehow an elitist know-it-all and stupid, naïve little girl, too rich to actually care about working-class people, and a dead-beat all at the same time.

I’m not trying to give them advice or anything, but if they could actually be consistent for a couple of minutes, maybe they at least wouldn’t look quite so stupid when they attack her.

It’s almost like they can’t figure out why they dislike her so much, or don’t want to admit why…

This credit score nonsense does touch on an important issue however. For many people in the US, having a poor credit score and/or a history of evictions is a reality.

Credit scores can impact how much you pay in utilities, your chances of being approved for a lease, or how much you pay in car insurance. If you’re living (or have ever lived) in poverty, other aspects of your life quickly become more expensive, making it all the harder to dig out of that hole.

To quote another viral tweet: “Being poor charges interest.”

In a time when 40 percent of Americans can’t afford a $400 emergency expense, it feels especially cruel to mock people who may have a history that reflects a lack of financial freedom. A low credit score doesn’t make someone a bad person, nor does it speak to their ability to be a good or reliable employee, renter, or representative.

Shaming low-income people has to come to an end.

Ban the Billionaires?

The idea that the rich have too much wealth at the expense of everyone else has taken off in recent months. There’s even talk of “banning billionaires” and there are extremely popular policy proposals looking to significantly raise taxes on the ultra-rich coming from legislators like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Americans have supported raising taxes on the rich for a long time. But the ultra-rich, Republicans, and anti-tax extremists like Grover Norquist have kept that popular sentiment at bay. Partly with rhetoric about “freedom” and partly by philanthropic deeds, not to mention a right-wing media ecosystem (itself full of rich pundits) that portrays them as benevolent, self-made geniuses.

Then came Lord Dampnut.

With (self-proclaimed) billionaire Donald Trump occupying the White House and daily revealing what a profound moron and amoral con-man he is, the veil has been torn off. It’s easier to see that many billionaires are grifters that at best, stumbled into their wealth rather than the self-made entrepreneurs that we’ve been told they are.

Before, Americans wanted to tax the rich to pay for specific policies like Medicare-for-all, public college, and repairing infrastructure. Now, Americans are beginning to see it as a moral issue. These days, the reasoning goes that taxing the ultra-wealthy will tamp down extreme wealth inequality. They believe that someone shouldn’t start out with that much of an advantage in life, especially given what kind of people they turn out to be.

It’s a truism in American politics that there’s a natural tendency for public opinion to swing in opposition to whichever party is in power. Still, I think it’s fair to say that the public’s reaction to Trump has been more intense than it would’ve been under a President Jeb Bush. Trump has energized liberals and progressives on issues, like women’s rights, in resistance to the president, which has inspired record numbers of women to run for public office.

There are also other factors, such as outrage over the Great Recession, the Occupy Wall Street protests, and Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign which focused heavily on wealth inequality pushing the Democratic Party (the rank-and-file at any rate) to the left regarding economics. Also, our rich president, his super-rich Cabinet, and the millionaires on mainstream news TV have repeatedly demonstrated how out of touch they are with regular people when it comes to financial issues.

Finally, Trump has set himself apart from all other modern presidents by keeping his tax returns secret, bringing up daily questions about what he is trying to hide. Inadvertently shining a constant light on how the rich often get away with not paying their fair share.