Friday, October 17, 2008

Toward a "Dog Food Retirement future"

So the stock market gyrated again today -- first the Dow was down about 400 points, then up a similar amount. That's an 800 point swing over a day -- certainly enough to make a good spectator sport, if only these oscillations didn’t have real life meaning. But they do.

The post-Reagan Republican "ownership society" has pretty much killed off pensions and shoved millions of us into 401-k plans that force us to play in the big casino that is Wall Street. Pretty much everyone in that arena has just taken a 30 percent hit to the "value" of whatever they were invested in. (Quotations marks there because the real value will be the price when we liquidate those holdings, not the number they happened to have in a quote today. But what if we can't wait for the value of our holdings to come back, if it ever does?) For a discussion among elders of what that means in the current market, see this post by Ronni Bennett at Time Goes By. Robert Reich, a former Secretary of Labor, lays out lucidly the particular crunch this puts "early boomers" (the 55-63 year old set) into.

But in addition to those of us in a position to worry about all this, there are also millions of people for whom such worries would be living in luxury. Jonathan Tasini at Working Life laid out some of the facts in a recent post.

  • 24.5 percent of all Americans earn poverty wages ($9.60 or less);
  • 10 percent of all Americans --15 million Americans -- earn $6.79 or less;
  • 33.3 percent of African American workers and 39.3 of Hispanic workers earn poverty wages;
  • At the recent new minimum wage of $6.55 an hour, if you worked every single day, 40 hours a week, with no vacations, no holidays, no health care and no pension, you would earn the grand sum of $13.624. The POVERTY LEVEL for a family of three is $17,600;
  • 47 million Americans have no health care and tens of millions more have inadequate or costly health care that can bankrupt them;
  • Since 1978, the number of defined-benefit plans -- that means, pensions that give retirees a promised monthly amount -- plummeted from 128,041 plans covering some 41 percent of private-sector workers to only 26,000 today. It’s a Dog Food Retirement future for millions of people.
Kind of puts the gyrating Dow in some perspective to think about the people who are at the true bottom of the U.S. pyramid. They pick our food, work in meat processing plants, clean hotels, build subdivisions -- and we enjoy the product of their labor. If we indeed get a Democratic administration, those of us with a little more need to keep the pressure on the new regime to make sure those with even less have a chance to work their way into the mainstream of U.S. life.

Update: I'll just add this story of the intersection of financial flimflam, economic stagnation, and the endless war which came to me this morning from Code Pink, along with an appeal to help Jocelyne Voltaire whose story it tells.

1 comment:

Darlene said...

It also puts John McCain's statement to Joe, the plumber in perspective, too. MCain would like people to think that Obama is taking money from the small business man to give to the poor. The reverse has been true since the Reagan revolution. Capitalism has been taking from the poor and giving it to the rich. Robin Hood in reverse.

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