As we saw in Part one of this series, Corporations can be quite the drain on society. The crippling costs some businesses incur on the community outweighs even the incentives they are given through Corporate Welfare. Part two of this series will show how corporations feed back into Social Welfare. These are some thirsty little parasites.
“The Great Speedup”
The American employment system has changed. The only jobs available to individuals these days do nothing to better the future of America, or the American worker. These types of jobs feed into a never-ending system that stifles any chance of people escaping. Whether it is a blue or white-collar job, employer’s demands are up and pay is down. Poor wages and poor hours have pushed workers in this country to the brink of insanity.
There is word for this and it has been subtracted from the American workforce’s vocabulary: Speedup. Mother Jones was so fascinated by the ever growing trend they created their own series entitled, ‘The Great Speedup.”
This is the basic definition:
Speedup: an employer’s demand for accelerated output without increased pay
A paycheck was once something to be proud of, representing the American dream of self-accomplishment. There is nothing like earning money, enough to pay for more than the bills, but those kinds of paychecks do not seem to exist anymore. Employees cannot even take time to enjoy success because a supervisor is busy whispering in their ear about how much they suck. Forget about being treated like a human being; workers are now considered machines that have a nasty habit of asking for rights. But workers who recognize this have either been silenced by fear or guilted about feeling “entitled.” No job is safe from domineering employers.
New Demands on White Collar Employees
During the recession everyone cut back, and companies looked to employees to help pick up the slack. Whether through loyalty to the company or fear of losing their job, these employees stuck it out and helped corporations prosper. Thanks to the American workforce, the U.S. economic output has nearly returned to pre-recession levels. The numbers show the amount of dedication workers put into their job.
Mother Jones reported the results of a study by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development on the average amount of time worked by employees worldwide. They found Americans worked an average of 1787 hours in 2011. We work 374 hours more than Germans and 122 hours more than the British. There are only 11 other countries that dedicated more time to their profession, including Korea, Chile and Russia.
The hardest-working of these 11 countries is Mexico. Employees averaged over 2200 hours a year. Even with the demand on workers, though, Mexicans still receive one to two weeks of paid vacation time, maternity leave and spend 24 hours a week away from work.
So what was the American return for all our increased productivity? (You work, you know) nothing. Workers are slaves to their profession in and outside the office and have seen no reward for it. Wages have limped along, without even attempting to keep up with work demand. John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo, predicts there will only be a 1.9 to 2.1 percent increase in the next year for wages. Outside the office, Americans spend the majority of their “off time” submersed in emails and business calls, and many receive no paid vacations or maternity leave. Some of the only other countries that do not require time off for new moms include Liberia, Samoa and Swaziland.
This seems to make no sense, right? Well, the main reason for this new work system is because corporations learned a valuable lesson from the recession: you can fire half of your staff and still make a profit. In fact, over 20 percent of companies say they will not up their employment to pre-recession numbers. Instead, they have created what the Wall Street Journal is calling “superjobs.” Layoffs no longer just mean higher unemployment; those who stay employed are also expected to pick up the slack.
While this may have been considered “belt tightening” at the height of the recession, it is now looked at as the perfect way to save a dime. Since 2007, corporate profits have increased 22 percent, while productivity of workers has quadrupled since 2008.
And you think all that hard work will at least lead to better pay? Hah! You’re funny. In a recent survey by Spherion Staffing, 53 percent of surveyed workers had taken on more than their job description, while only 7 percent saw a raise or bonus. The workload has become so overwhelming that 53 percent of those surveyed said it negatively affected their health. Employees are commonly pushed to the breaking point, with only feedback from employers being, “you’re not going fast enough.”
The survey concluded that only 5 percent of respondents enjoy their work and would not consider looking for another job. Ladies and gentlemen, you are far from alone in your deep-seated hatred of your job.
The Temporary Blue Collar Workforce
While white collar America has seen a sharp rise in demand and a slope in pay, the ones who have really been blindsided (for years now) are those in minimum wage jobs. While minimum wage has only increased in real value by 21 percent since 1990, the cost of living has gone up 67 percent. For a worker to have “real economic security,” their income must surpass $30,000. The average minimum wage employee makes $15,080.
The real losers of this system are those employed in the food industry. The Food Chain Workers Alliance conducted the first survey of its kind looking into the wages and working conditions across the entire food industry. Twenty percent of the country’s workforce is the driving factor behind the $1.8 trillion commerce, yet only 13.5 percent make a livable wage. 37.6 percent of all food employees (including fast food, meat processing, servers, etc.) made a poverty wage. Over 27 percent of workers were on Medicaid (compared to 19 percent of all industries) and 13 percent were on food stamps (compared to 8 percent.) Everything from hours, to benefits, to work safety fell flat.
Unfortunately, the food industry is not an isolated case. All minimum wage industries have begun to fight back. There have been a growing number of workers protesting Walmart, fast food and retail walkouts, objection from Weight Watchers staff (who saw 15.6 percent decline in wages last year), and on, and on, and on.
The worst part, though, is the disappearance of full-time employment for people stuck in these sectors. Mother jones’s Gabriel Thompson did an investigative report into the ever-growing temp industry. He followed a 600-office temp agency called Labor Ready. This company finds “employment” for over 400,000 individuals, greater than the workforce of Target or Home Depot.
These kinds of places are not designed to find full employment; it is simply an assembly line of “warm bodies.” As Thompson put it, “[These industries] Specializ[e] in ‘tough-to-fill, high-turnover positions;’ the company dispatches people to dig ditches, demolish buildings, remove debris, stock giant fulfillment warehouses—jobs that take their toll on a body.“
And this is currently the fastest growing sector providing “jobs.” In 1989, the number of temporary manufacturing jobs was one in 43. In 2006 it had jumped to one in 11. These are the jobs the “parasites” of Social Welfare are finding. Thompson went on to report, depending on the state, anywhere from 15 to 40 percent of Labor Ready’s workforce were former welfare recipients.
The reason for so many temps? Cheap labor that requires no benefits or job security. This is not just a place for the poor to find work; it is also a cash cow. Labor Ready’s parent company, Trueblue, saw a 55 percent increase in profits last year, upping their sales to $1.3 billion dollars through using Labor Ready’s workforce.
The American workforce is being exploited at this point. The only real reason for demanding more and more from employees who are paid less and less is for a higher payouts to executives and stockholders, not because the these corporations are in trouble.