This Labor Day, it appears that a "perfect storm" is gathering that may well sweep away Republican control of the Congress this fall. It is a storm fueled by three developments:
First, profound economic trends have strained working families to the breaking point – workers are not sharing in the wealth they helped create and our nation’s economic recovery has not been a recovery for workers at all.
Second, as you might expect, new polling shows that most voters are painfully aware of these problems and pocketbook issues will be top voting issues this fall.
And finally, the AFL-CIO is making the largest effort in our history in an off-year election, driving home these pocketbook issues. We will play the largest role we've ever played in electing the candidates we've endorsed in many of the pivotal competitive races for the House and Senate.
Why do unions engage in political action at this level?
For workers, a “perfect storm
While corporate profits and productivity have soared, wages are a different story – wages and salaries make up the lowest proportion of the economy since the government began keeping records in 1947. Real median earnings for men working full-time and year-round were lower in 2005 than in 1973. In inflation-adjusted 2005 dollars, a typical man working full-time in 1973 earned $42,573. Thirty-six years later, this figure has fallen to $41,386.
Last week's new census data tell us that real median earnings for both men and women working full-time fell in 2005. Real wages for the typical worker have grown only 9 percent since 1979, while productivity has risen by 67 percent.
The typical family’s real income today is still almost $1300 lower than in 2000, while household debt is out of sight.
Five million more people are in poverty today than in 2000, including 1 million more children. The poverty rate for black children hit a disgraceful 34.5 percent in 2005.
Health care coverage continues to fall in one of the richest countries of the world: 46.6 million people were not covered by health insurance in 2005-- that is more than 5 million people who have lost coverage since 2001. Health care costs rose three times faster than wages last year.
This economy is growing only at the top, and it is barely generating enough new jobs to cover the growth in the labor force – the worst labor market performance on record, at this stage in the economic recovery. And economic growth is being propped up by record levels of household debt, not growing incomes.
Stagnant or falling wages, rising debt, and spiraling health and energy costs are destroying our nation’s middle class, and the hopes and dreams of America’s workers.
Something is really wrong when laid off Northwest Airlines workers are told, as part of a corporate memo on how to cope, “Don’t be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash.