Co-published by Fast Company
My young father’s blue-collar jobs were his escalator into California’s middle-class. The rising cost of living has put an end to such opportunities.
This week Capital & Main launches an ongoing project focusing on the broken economics of what is, according to one recent MIT analysis, America’s most expensive state.
For the past year Capital & Main has produced a wide range of coverage of Janus v. AFSCME. Below we offer a comprehensive primer on the case, its origins and its potential implications.
It’s summer and gasoline prices have peaked — a certain sign that it’s vacation time. Except for those who don’t get vacations or, worse, get them but don’t take them.
Since about a quarter of this country’s workforce earns only minimum wage or holds down a job (or two) at less than full-time hours, a large number of families do not benefit from paid vacations at all. Add in the number of self-employed who only take a vacation if they can earn enough to set aside the money, and vacations, which much of the middle class has always taken for granted, have suddenly become out of reach for a large number of families. If they take any time off, it costs them money they need to survive.
More than three-quarters of Americans say they live paycheck to paycheck, which means taking a vacation even for the middle class means going into debt.
My friend, mentor and colleague, Rev. James Lawson, calls our economic system “plantation capitalism.” Lawson was the nonviolent strategist for Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement and the key figure in the desegregation of Nashville. His reference, of course, pulls forward the image of enslaved field workers in the Old South.
The image chafes in my mind. Yes, slavery, but today’s workers are not slaves. They are not the landless peasants or sharecroppers that emancipated slaves were forced to be. They are not the low-level, below-the-standard-wage employees that Southern blacks became when they migrated to the steel cities of the North. They are not second-class citizens isolated into segregated neighborhoods and limited to menial jobs.
Except, there is a growing body of evidence showing that this is exactly what a majority of workers of all colors is becoming. Between 1965 and 2011, while the top 10 percent gained an inflation-adjusted annual income increase of $116,000,
An unlikely source – the Wall Street Journal – has profiled in disturbing detail California’s widening gap not “just between rich and poor but also between rich and middle class.” According to the paper, upper income families in California – defined as “the upper 10 percent” – now earn 12 times as much as lower income families. And the average California family’s income fell by 11 percent between 2007 and 2010.
As a result, only a minority of Californians now can now call themselves “middle class.”
The One Percent’s favorite daily newspaper has even explained how budget cuts threaten to sabotage California’s economic recovery by “saddl[ing] California with an undereducated, less competitive-workforce.”
Budget cuts, which will grow far worse “if voters don’t approve Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax increase in November,” have already: