Labor Day and Downward Mobility

downward mobility latters

By GREGORY N. HEIRES

Since 1890, children could count on having a higher standard of living than their parents.

Not anymore.

Today–as we mark Labor Day–is a time to ask, why?

Many factors account for this troubling trend: public policy, tax cuts for the wealthy, globalization, labor-saving technology, a corporate attack on worker benefits, and de-unionization.

What are the consequences of the disappearing American Dream, the result of decades of the erosion of our benefits and pay? Here are some of the most disturbing signs of downward mobility:

  • Only 50 percent of the children born 1980 earn more than their parents. About 90 percent of children born in 1944 surpassed the income of their parents.
  • Black children from well-off families (the top fifth of income distribution) are more likely to fall behind their parents than white children, according to a study by Raj Chetty of Stamford University, Nathaniel Hendren of Harvard University, Randall Akee of UCLA and the Census Bureau’s Maggie Jones and Sonja Parker.

From 1989 to 2014, white children in this income group had a 41.1 percent chance of earning as much as their parents. Only 18 percent of black children remained in the top fifth income group. Other disturbing trends:

  • Millennials—born from 1981 to 1996—are marrying, having children and purchasing homes later than their parents.
  • One-third of Americans ages 18-34 are living in their parents’ home rather than elsewhere for the first time 130 years ago, according to the Pew Research Center.
  • Wages adjusted for inflation have decline since the 1970s, according to Pew.

We can’t expect the Trump administration to put a brake on this downward mobility.

His tax plan (favorable to the 1 percent) will exacerbate inequality. He hasn’t taken steps to improve wages, which have dropped since he became president.

He has made pro-corporate appointments at the Dept. of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board, which has shifted to the side of capital.

The attack on Obamacare threatens the health coverage of millions.

And Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court means the nation’s highest court will continue to make decisions favoring corporations over workers. The new court soon after Gorsuch’s appointment ruled in favor of the Janus v. AFSCME case, which threatens to undermine the financial health of public-employee unions.

But we are fighting back. Taking this path of resistance is showing a positive impact. We are winning the hearts and minds of working people in the United States and the pushback is growing more effective with each day. Earlier this year, teachers unions showed the way with massive strike actions in red states, winning what were once considered impossible victories.

November may open a different world that will set us on a course change for the better.

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