This is the “End of a Golden Age,” proclaimed a Feb. 22 article by economist Marc Levinson on the Aeon website. “Unprecedented growth marked the era from 1948-1973,” he wrote. “Economists might study it forever, but it can never be repeated.”
In that quarter century living standards of working people improved in the imperialist countries of Western Europe, North America and Japan, he says. But this is the case no longer. With real wages for production workers stagnant for decades, nearly half of 30- and 40-year-olds now earn less than their parents did.
Through struggles waged by workers in the aftermath of World War II, union membership reached its highest levels. In the U.S. workers won social benefits, including pensions, some health coverage and government-funded unemployment pay. All these are under attack as the bosses push to drive down workers’ living and working conditions and to break their unions. In the U.S. the number of unionized workers is down to 10.7 percent overall, and just 6.4 percent in industry and the rest of the private sector — its lowest level for a century.
The slow-burning depression conditions and growing boss attacks we face are rooted in a historic worldwide economic crisis of falling capitalist production and trade.
Because of declining profit rates, the capitalists have held back from investing in capacity-expanding plant and production, as they did in Levinson’s so-called golden age. Instead, they’ve turned to speculation on stocks, bonds, derivatives and other forms of commercial paper in search of higher returns, or are content to sit on their cash.
The average profit rate in U.S. industry reached its modern high point in 1950, built on Washington’s victory in the second imperialist world war and the rulers’ resulting preeminent position in world trade and production. Even when the boom peaked and profit rates began to stagnate, the owners of industrial capital continued to reap substantial growth in their overall mass of profits for the next couple of decades. They invested in new factories, replaced worn-out equipment, and expanded into new branches of industry.
Accelerating economic crisis
The 1974-75 worldwide recession signaled an end to those years of capitalist expansion. Attacks on the rights, wages and living standard of working people became the norm.
“From work to income to health to social mobility,” economist Nicholas Eberstadt wrote in Commentary Feb. 15, workers began to face what he calls “a distressing era for the United States.”
This crisis has been accelerating despite claims to the contrary by the boss media and the meritocracy — the upper-middle-class layer based in academia, foundations, nonprofits, think tanks and staffing government regulatory agencies — who administer society for the capitalist rulers. Eberstadt describes them as living in “the bubble.”
These “smarts” argue that February’s official unemployment rate of 4.7 percent shows the economy is at “near full employment.” Maybe that’s true for them, their kin and in their cloistered neighborhoods, but for us life is different.
From January 2000 to December 2016, the jobs-to-population ratio for workers 20 years and older has dropped almost 5 percentage points — from 64.6 to 59.7. “If our nation’s work rate today were back up to its start-of-the-century highs,” writes Eberstadt, “well over 10 million more Americans would currently have paying jobs.” And, as Levinson put it, these figures will never get back to his “golden age.”
Millions of workers who’ve managed to hold jobs today only get part-time or contract work. For every unemployed male worker between 25 and 55 years of age, “there are another three who are neither working nor looking for work,” said Eberstadt. That’s 5 million people.
For women, whose battles for equal rights led to job gains that reached their highest percentage in the workforce in 2000, this figure has declined back to where it was in the 1980s. Simply put, the bosses and the crisis of their capitalist system have shrunk the working class.
Companies are increasingly relying on employing large numbers of workers from temp agencies and contractors, at lower pay, few if any benefits, and without union protection on the job.
The Wall Street Journal ran a feature in February titled “The End of Employees,” reporting that bigger companies now outsource up to 50 percent of their jobs. The results? “The strategy prunes costs for firms and job security for millions of workers,” the paper said.
In this “new normal,” working people face deteriorating health care, an epidemic of drug addiction and, for the first time in decades, a drop in life expectancy.
Socialist Workers Party members across the country are talking about the crisis to workers on their doorsteps, at strike picket lines and protests against government attacks. They find anger over this class reality, a wide discussion among working people on a way forward to end capitalist rule, and growing interest in the party.
Two-party system of capitalist rule in US racked with growing instability
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