Shit is fucked up and bullshit. Economic inequality is high and wages are low and people are mad. Want to do something about it? Don’t vote for Donald Trump. Join a union.
Right around the time the Reagan era began, America began to change. The idea that everyone in our society should benefit from a rising economy fell apart. The productivity of workers kept right on going up, but the wages we pay to workers stopped going up along with it.
The average working American hasn’t gotten a real raise in more than 30 years. So where has all the extra wealth been going that whole time? To the very rich.
After several decades of this, America is afflicted with a vague but widespread sense of anger and dissatisfaction. As it should be! Most people know that the system has gotten out of whack, but are unsure who to blame. Some blame foreigners, channeling their anger into racism and xenophobia and protectionism and America-firstness and generally seeking to walk backwards in time down an ugly road of history. We don’t need to do all that. America’s working class—the majority of us—should know that there is another reason for the rise in inequality. One that is in our power to reverse, without starting a new civil war.
Fifty years ago, about a third of American workers belonged to unions. Today, that share has fallen to one in nine workers, and in the private sector, union membership is now under 7 percent. This huge decline in union membership has not only meant lower wages for those who would have been in unions—it has pulled down wages for all workers, by destroying what used to be the counterbalance to the power of businesses to engage in a race to the bottom for salaries and working conditions.
As unions have declined, so have the fortunes of the majority of people. This is a fact. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute attempts to quantify the financial effect of the decline of unions, and its key finding is that this decline has had devastating effects even on workers who are not in unions. They estimate that if union membership had stayed at the same level where it was when Ronald Reagan took office, wages for all men (who have historically been more likely to be union members) working in the private sector would be 5 percent higher today. That represents a loss of $2,700 per year per worker. When you look at less educated workers, the effect is more pronounced. Bolding ours:
For nonunion private-sector men without a bachelor’s degree or more education (non–college graduates), weekly wages would be an estimated 8 percent ($58) higher in 2013 if union density remained at its 1979 levels. For a year-round worker, this translates to an annual wage loss of $3,016. As a benchmark, consider that the wage loss from increased trade with low-wage nations (Bivens 2013) among non–college graduates is estimated to be 5 percent.
Please read that again and think about it in the context of our current political climate. Donald Trump would have you believe that free trade with poorer nations like China and Mexico is the root of all of the working class’s ills. In fact, this report estimates that America’s declining union membership has had a negative effect on wages equal to the effect of free trade.
It is much easier for the average American worker to join a union than to reverse the trend of globalization. Yet they could both be equally productive for the worker.
The receding power of unions has meant a decline in power for the entire middle class. As industries have become less unionized, their prevailing wages have stopped rising for union members and non-members alike. This has meant a lower share of income for workers across the board. Workers like you are getting less, because you’re not organized. And who has been scooping up the money that you’re not getting? Men like Donald Trump, primarily.
Don’t get mad at foreigners. Unionize. It’s the only battle in the class war that lies entirely within your power to win.