How the Coronavirus Could Create a New Working Class

From today’s Atlantic Online:

Late last month, a photo circulated of delivery drivers crowding around Carbone, a Michelin-starred Greenwich Village restaurant, waiting to pick up $32 rigatoni and bring it to people who were safely ensconced in their apartment. A police officer, attempting to spread out the crowd, reportedly said, “I know you guys are just out here trying to make money. I personally don’t give a shit!” The poor got socially close, it seems, so that the rich could socially distance.

The past few weeks have exposed just how much a person’s risk of infection hinges on class. Though people of all incomes are at risk of being laid off, those who can work from home are at least less likely to get sick. The low-income workers who do still have jobs, meanwhile, are likely to be stuck in close quarters with other humans. For example, grocery-store clerks face some of the greatest exposure to the coronavirus, aside from health-care workers. “Essential” businesses—grocery stores, pharmacies—are about the only places Americans are still permitted to go, and their cashiers stand less than an arm’s length from hundreds of people a day.

My inboxes have filled up with outcries from workers at big-box retailers, grocery stores, and shipping giants who say their companies are not protecting them. They say people are being sent into work despite having been in contact with people infected with the virus. They say the company promised to pay for their quarantine leave, but the payment has been delayed for weeks and they are running out of money. Or the company denied their medical leave because they don’t have proof of a nearly impossible-to-get COVID-19 test. Or the company doesn’t offer paid medical leave at all, and they’re wondering how they’ll pay for gas once they recover from the disease.

Masks are in short supply nationwide, and some managers have resisted allowing workers to wear them, fearing it will disrupt the appearance of normalcy. Some companies have rolled out “hazard pay” for employees, but in many cases it amounts to about $2 more an hour. The Amazon employees I’ve spoken with largely work fewer than 30 hours a week, and the company does not provide them with health insurance. One Walmart employee used up all his attendance “points” while sick with the virus, and was fired upon his return to work. (Walmart did not comment on his situation for my story.) At least 41 grocery-store workers have already died from the virus. “I make $14.60 an hour and don’t qualify for health care yet,” one grocery-store employee in New Mexico wrote to me. “I am freaked out.”

Meanwhile, many white-collar workers have no “points” system. Many such jobs offer as much paid time off as an employee and her manager agree to—a concept far beyond even the most generous policies at grocery stores. Many PR specialists, programmers, and other white-collar workers are doing their exact same job, except from the comfort of their home. Some are at risk of being laid off. But for the most part, they are not putting their lives in danger, except by choice.

Read the complete article here.

For 53 million Americans stuck in low-wage jobs, the road out is hard

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Unemployment is hovering near a five-decade low, workforce participation is at the highest level in six years and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell recently called the labor market “strong.”

Yet, 44% of Americans age 18 to 64 are low-wage workers with few prospects for improving their lot, according to a Brookings Institution report.

An estimated 53 million Americans are earning low wages, according to the study. That number is more than twice the number of people in the 10 most populous U.S. cities combined, the report notes. The median wage for those workers is $10.22 an hour and their annual pay is $17,950.

Although many are benefiting from high demand for labor, the data indicated that not all new jobs are good, high-paying positions. The definition of “low-wage” differs from place to place. The authors define low-wage workers as those who earn less than two-thirds of the median wage for full-time workers, adjusted for the regional cost of living. For instance, a worker would be considered low wage in Beckley, W.Va., with earnings of $12.54 an hour or less, but in San Jose, Calif., the low wage bar rises to $20.02 an hour.

“We have the largest and longest expansion and job growth in modern history,” Marcela Escobari, coauthor of the report, said in a phone interview. That expansion “is showing up in very different ways to half of the worker population that finds itself unable to move.”

Read the complete article here.

Wage inequality is surging in California, and not just on the coast. Here’s why

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Wage inequality has risen more in California cities than in the metropolitan areas of any other state, with seven of the nation’s 15 most unequal cities located in the Golden State.

San Jose, with its concentration of Silicon Valley technology jobs, had the largest gap of any California metro area between those at the top of the pay scale and those at the bottom. It ranked second in the nation after the suburb of Fairfield, Conn., home to wealthy New York financiers, according to a new analysis of 2015 U.S. Census data by Federal Reserve economists. San Francisco and Los Angeles also ranked high on the list.

More surprising, perhaps, is the inclusion of Bakersfield, where high-wage engineering jobs are juxtaposed with poverty-wage farm work.The heavy concentration of California metro areas is a striking turnabout from 1980, when just three figured in the top 15.

As inequality has soared across the United States, most sharply since the 1980s, it has been the focus of widespread debate and become a hot political issue. But less attention has focused on dramatic geographical differences in inequality.

“Wage inequality … has risen quite sharply in some parts of the country, while it has been much more subdued in other places,” wrote Jaison Abel and Richard Deitz, economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who titled their report, “Why Are Some Places So Much More Unequal than Others?

Large cities with dynamic economies tend to have higher wage disparities, while midsized cities with “sluggish economies” are less unequal because they attract fewer high-wage workers, the authors found.

Read the complete article here.

Workers, Should You Tell the World How Much Money You Make?

From today’s New York Times:

There are many questions Alison Green is asked as a columnist who writes about workplace issues. There was the woman who wanted to know if she should attend couple’s therapy with her boss and the boss’s boyfriend. (The boyfriend happened to be her father.) Another time she heard complaints about a janitor who cast a hex on her colleagues.

But Ms. Green was taken aback recently when asked about her salary, a topic so fraught even she couldn’t come up with a good answer. “No one has ever asked me that,” she said. “I don’t want to say.”

Many employees are loath to discuss their salaries, she said, worried it would cause resentment, or worse, among peers. “We are all so weird about telling people how much money we make, even me.”

Perhaps it is why, too, Ms. Green recently asked readers of her “Ask A Manager” website to share their job title, where they live and how much they make each year. Answers were anonymous; the data was compiled in a spreadsheet on Ms. Green’s website so people could sort through the data.

Within a half-hour, she had 1,000 responses. A day later, so many people posted their salaries her website froze. So far, three weeks later, she has more than 26,000 responses, everything from an accountant in Chicago who makes $90,000 to a librarian in Austin who earns $39,000. She was surprised by the overwhelming response: Previous surveys in 2014 and 2017 garnered a fraction of interest, fewer than 2,700 comments apiece.

Why the interest now? Attitudes about workers disclosing pay are shifting, for one, as unemployment has reached a five-decade low. And the gig economy has made salary comparing a near necessity for many. (How else does a person know what to charge if they are a freelancer?)

Read the complete article here.


The $70,000-a-Year Minimum Wage

From today’s New York Times:

Staff members gasped four years ago when Dan Price gathered the 120 employees at Gravity Payments, the company he had founded with his brother, and told them he was raising everyone’s salary to a minimum of $70,000, partly by slashing his own $1.1 million pay to the same level.

The news went viral and provoked a national debate about whether efficient capitalism could have a heart. Some Americans lauded Price for treating employees with dignity. However, on Fox Business he was labeled the “lunatic of all lunatics,” and Rush Limbaugh declared, “I hope this company is a case study in M.B.A. programs on how socialism does not work, because it’s going to fail.”

So I came to Seattle to see what had unfolded: Did Gravity succeed or crash?

There were bumps, no doubt about it. A couple of important employees quit, apparently feeling less valued when new hires were close to them in pay. The publicity forced Gravity, which processes credit card payments for small businesses, to hire additional people to handle a deluge of inquiries. Worst of all, Price’s brother, who owned a stake in the company, sued and alleged that Price hadn’t consulted him on decisions.

For a while, it wasn’t clear that the gamble was going to pay off.

But eventually it did: Business has surged, and profits are higher than ever. Gravity last year processed $10.2 billion in payments, more than double the $3.8 billion in 2014, before the announcement. It has grown to 200 employees, all nonunion.

Read the complete article here.

Household Net Worth Rebounding Since Financial Crisis

From today’s NYT “Business Day” by Floyd Norris:

THE net worth of American households is now 20 percent higher than it was before it began to decline in 2007, the Federal Reserve reported this week. It said the households together were worth $81.5 trillion at the end of the second quarter, higher than ever and up 10 percent from a year earlier.

By another measure, household net worth is a little short of the record highs reached before the recession. It amounted to 471 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in the second quarter, just short of the record 473 percent set in early 2007.

Those figures are not adjusted for inflation. But adjusted for the change in the Consumer Price Index, household wealth is also at a record high, 4 percent above the 2007 level.

The recovery in household wealth has come in ways that favor the wealthiest households. The Fed estimated that real estate owned by households is worth $22.9 trillion, 6 percent less than seven years earlier but 27 percent more than at the bottom of the real estate market in 2011.

Read the entire article here.

A New Report Argues Inequality Is Causing Slower Growth. Here’s Why It Matters.

From today’s NYT blog “The Upshot” by Neil Irwin:

Is income inequality holding back the United States economy? A new report argues that it is, that an unequal distribution in incomes is making it harder for the nation to recover from the recession and achieve the kind of growth that was commonplace in decades past.

The report is interesting not because it offers some novel analytical approach or crunches previously unknown data. Rather, it has to do with who produced it, which says a lot about how the discussion over inequality is evolving.

Economists at Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services are the authors of the straightforwardly titled “How Increasing Inequality is Dampening U.S. Economic Growth, and Possible Ways to Change the Tide.” The fact that S&P, an apolitical organization that aims to produce reliable research for bond investors and others, is raising alarms about the risks that emerge from income inequality is a small but important sign of how a debate that has been largely confined to the academic world and left-of-center political circles is becoming more mainstream.

Read the entire article here.

Brookings study finds income inequality in America’s largest cities

From the Brookings Institute “Metropolitan Opportunity Series” Papers:

In December 2013, President Obama gave a speech on economic mobility, in which he called income inequality and lack of upward mobility “the defining challenge of our time.”

That challenge is front and center in America’s big cities today. Obama’s speech followed a series of municipal elections in November 2013 in which inequality figured prominently as a campaign issue. Foremost among these was in New York City, where Bill de Blasio won a landslide election after campaigning to address what he called a “Tale of Two Cities.” Similar themes were sounded in the successful campaigns and first days in office of Marty Walsh in BostonEd Murray in Seattle, and Betsy Hodges in Minneapolis. The “Google Bus” in San Francisco’s Mission District has shone a spotlight on growing economic divisions within that city. And income inequality will no doubt be a central issue in mayoral elections during the next couple of years in cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Inequality may be the result of global economic forces, but it matters in a local sense. A city where the rich are very rich, and the poor very poor, is likely to face many difficulties. It may struggle to maintain mixed-income school environments that produce better outcomes for low-income kids. It may have too narrow a tax base from which to sustainably raise the revenues necessary for essential city services. And it may fail to produce housing and neighborhoods accessible to middle-class workers and families, so that those who move up or down the income ladder ultimately have no choice but to move out.

There are many ways of looking at inequality statistically; one useful way to measure it across places is by using the “95/20 ratio.” This figure represents the income at which a household earns more than 95 percent of all other households, divided by the income at which a household earns more than only 20 percent of all other households. In other words, it represents the distance between a household that just cracks the top 5 percent by income, and one that just falls into the bottom 20 percent. Over the past 35 years, members of the former group have generally experienced rising incomes, while those in the latter group have seen their incomes stagnate.

The latest U.S. Census Bureau data confirm that, overall, big cities remain more unequal places by income than the rest of the country. Across the 50 largest U.S. cities in 2012, the 95/20 ratio was 10.8, compared to 9.1 for the country as a whole. The higher level of inequality in big cities reflects that, compared to national averages, big-city rich households are somewhat richer ($196,000 versus $192,000), and big-city poor households are somewhat poorer ($18,100 versus $21,000).

Read the entire study here.

Economic inequality is a problem, as is gap between ideal and reality

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out this informative video that provides a graphic representation of wealth inequality in the U.S. and the gap in perception between what people think an ideal distribution of wealth should look like and what it really is in fact.