Over the holidays I watched the Netflix documentary, The American Factory. It’s about the closure of a GM factory in Dayton and its subsequent purchase by a Chines billionaire. His company invested lots of money, got lots of tax abatements, and created hundreds of jobs. They brought in an army of Chinese managers and tried to convince American workers they should succumb to Chinese work ethics and blind loyalty to the company.
It wasn’t long before an attempt to organize arose and not much longer before that attempt was crushed and those responsible were shown the door. When it was a GM plant the wage was $29 an hour plus benefits. After a couple of years, the starting wage under the Chinese was still only $14 an hour with far fewer benefits. The workers are mostly overworked, under-paid, underrepresented, and safety-wise, under-protected.
Trump and his minions love to shout praise at the state of today’s US economy. They especially love to taut the record high of the Dow Jones and the near-record lows of unemployment. And while these things are true they don’t tell the whole or true story of our economy as it applies to the average working American.
Newsweek Magazine, for example, just reported that 44% of American full-time employees are earning less than $19,000 a year. If you do the simple arithmetic that figures out to just $9.89 an hour. That’s what teenagers get paid flipping burgers part-time at McDonald’s.
If you’re not in that 44% and are doing better, you’re still not flush with cash. In November 2019 the average hourly wage in America was just short of $24. In 1964 the average wage was $2.50. But, consider this, In 1964 the most expensive Chevrolet Impala V8 Super Sport Convertible cost just $3,196. If you’re grossing $24 an hour, what’s the most expensive new Chevrolet* you can afford? If you’re making less than $10 an hour, can you afford any new car?
Speaking of 1964, compare these prices to today.
The cold reality of today’s economy is that the average person isn’t really benefitting from it. Americans are still underemployed, overworked and underpaid. The kinds of jobs that once provided an expanding middle-class just don’t exist and many Americans have to work multiple low-paying jobs just to meet life’s basic needs. Yes, the stock market is soaring, but you probably aren’t invested in it unless your employer is providing you with a 401-K retirement plan. Yes, unemployment is low but, the jobs that are there aren’t very good jobs. Yes, Trump can point to records but he won’t point out the ever-shrinking middle-class in America. He can point to a massive unfunded tax cut but he will not point out that over 60% of it went to the richest of the rich. Trump can brag about highs but he won’t mention that the wealth gap in America is arguably at an all-time high. The rich really are richer and the average American really is getting poorer.
Last week a person from the Cincinnati area argued with me that they worked as a clerk in a Lowe’s store and that under Trump they were doing just fine. A quick Google revealed that the average retail clerk in America earns between $8 and $14 an hour I find it hard to understand what “doing just fine” could mean at those wage averages.
Back in the ’90s, Bill Clinton the candidate for president had to be frequently reminded that, “it was the economy, stupid.” His handlers were trying to remind him to never fail to point out the economic realities that the electorate had to deal with. Well, the same thing is still true but for those who are so unfailingly loyal to Trump, the frequent reminding just doesn’t seem to matter. It still is the economy, stupid, and there is little evidence that Trump has you covered.
*An equivalent Chevrolet today may be the SuperSport (SS) at around $49,000.