This is the first post of a new series on general topics related to work and inequality. Every Monday I will be sharing reflections on current topics.
Monday, March 25, 2019
Inequality continues to dominate the news and as we approach the 2020 elections we will hear a lot about possible solutions. This chart from the Economic Policy Institute shows the ever-widening gap in income gains. Wages for the top 0.1% grew an astounding 343.2% since 1979. An average of 9% annually. Wages for the bottom 90% grew 22.2% during that same period. An average of .6% annually. Certainly not near enough to keep up with inflation.
Some believe that a Universal Basic Income is the answer. Given the vast changes occurring in the labor market as a result of the increased use of automation and artificial intelligence, it is possible that there will not be enough jobs in the future that will pay a living wage. Others believe that, as in past periods of rapid change, new jobs will be created to replace ones eliminated by technology. If every citizen was given $1000 a month, would this be the foundation or safety net that would allow people to survive in this new reality?
Others say it is time to raise taxes substantially on the rich. Those reaping the most rewards should pay more in taxes to support the infrastructure and needs of the country as a whole.
Wealthy corporations could help reduce inequality by sharing more of the profit with workers through higher wages and better benefits. CEO pay at many companies is 300 or more times as much as the lowest paid employee.
Let’s hope that our leaders will not stand by while inequality grows to epic proportions.
The Gig Economy and the Side Hustle
There is a lot of information available about the pros and cons of the gig economy. For me, the key piece of information is that some people choose to work an extra job with Uber or Flex, but others must work in the gig economy to supplement their income and survive in this economy. There are many stories about teachers working at night and on weekends to supplement their income and pay the bills. Shouldn’t a teaching job pay enough so that one job is enough?
Two major issues with those who rely solely on a gig economy job are insurance and retirement – two benefits traditionally provided or facilitated for by employers. A gig economy worker is self-employed and responsible for all costs associated with doing business including taxes, insurance, and retirement. A missed day because of illness or any other reason equals no pay.
If these types of jobs are going to increase in numbers, solutions must be found to help people understand the challenges faced by the self-employed or independent contractor. In several states, proposals have been made to establish a portable benefits plan that follows the worker no matter what type of job they do. Read more about portable benefits in this article from Brookings. Since many can no longer rely on the traditional benefits of employment, solutions like this will have to be implemented. We could end up with a whole generation of people reaching retirement with no savings or health insurance.
Here are 2 other articles on our blog about this topic:
A Shortage of Tradespeople
I recently read a great article in Popular Mechanics, How to Become a Skilled Tradesperson. There is a growing shortage of skilled workers in areas such as welding, electrical, and plumbing. We hear a lot of stories about the importance of going to college, but not so much about vocational school or apprenticeships. This is unfortunate as skilled tradespeople are essential and there are many opportunities for a career in the trades. Job growth in construction-related fields is projected to be double overall job growth.
Jobs associated with building and rebuilding roads, bridges, water, and the power grid are expected to grow by double-digit percentages—faster than the overall economy. Jobs for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters are projected to grow 16 percent during this same time period. And projected employment growth across all occupations is 7.4 percent. – Popular Mechanics
For more on the topic of the role of education read The Income Gap and the Role of Education.
The One Union is dedicated to fighting inequality and helping people adapt to changes in the labor market.