Monday, July 13, 2015

Rising Economic Insecurity Tied to Decades-Long Trend in Employment Practices

This ain’t flashy identity politics, so Obama doesn’t talk about it.

At the New York Times, «Growth in the 'Gig Economy' Fuels Work Force Anxieties«:

When the California Labor Commissioner's Office ruled last month that an Uber driver was an employee deserving of a variety of workplace protections — and was not, as the company maintained, an independent contractor — it highlighted the divided feelings many Americans have about what is increasingly being called the "gig economy."

On one hand, start-ups like Uber, which is appealing the decision, and Lyft make it possible to conjure up rides on a smartphone in a few seconds' time.

On the other, Uber — which directly employs fewer than 4,000 of the more than 160,000 people in the United States who depend on it for at least part of their livelihood — and similar companies pose a challenge to longstanding notions of what it means to hold a job.

As it happens, though, Uber is not so much a labor-market innovation as the culmination of a generation-long trend. Even before the founding of the company in 2009, the United States economy was rapidly becoming an Uber economy writ large, with tens of millions of Americans involved in some form of freelancing, contracting, temping or outsourcing.

The decades-long shift to these more flexible workplace arrangements, the venture capitalist Nick Hanauer and the labor leader David Rolf argue in the latest issue of Democracy Journal, is a "transformation that promises new efficiencies and greater flexibility for 'employers' and 'employees' alike, but which threatens to undermine the very foundation upon which middle-class America was built."

Along with other changes, like declining unionization and advancing globalization, the increasingly arm's-length nature of employment helps explain why incomes have stagnated and why most Americans remain deeply anxious about their economic prospects six years after the Great Recession ended.

Last year, 23 percent of Americans told Gallup they worried that their working hours would be cut back, up from percentages in the low to midteens in the years leading up to the recession. Twenty-four percent said they worried that their wages would be reduced, up from the mid- to high teens before the recession.

Even if the economy continues to improve, the lingering malaise will almost certainly be the central issue in next year's presidential election.

On Monday, Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to give a speech outlining her vision for improving the economic fortunes of the middle class. Leading Republicans, like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, have framed their policy ideas as an attempt to solve economic insecurity and the erosion of middle-class incomes.

But the tidal wave sweeping through the American economy has already reshaped the political landscape — from the rise of an anti-Wall Street movement on the left to the Tea Party on the right — and is sowing frustration among a large mass of voters.

"Whether America will be America or not hinges on whether we have a downward spiral around wages," said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, a think tank closely aligned with Mrs. Clinton. "People know things are changing. They don't feel like anyone has a handle on it. There's a yearning for a political vision that addresses that."

Neera Tanden?

What has she and the statist Center for American Progress ever done to improve the economic well-being of American citizens? These are the very people who’re making life worse in this country.

More at the link.

American Power

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