Article 43


Sunday, May 08, 2005

Reality of the “New Economy” for Young Workers

In the 1950s and the beginning of the 60s, most high school and college graduates could get a stable job and make a decent living. Since 1973, however, the capitalist economy has grown at a much slower pace, forcing corporations to cut labor costs. Young workers are now facing a job market characterized by an increase in low-paid service sector jobs and a shift towards flexibility for employers and economic insecurity for workers. Since 1973, real wages for workers entering the job market have fallen between 5.3% and 28% each year.(1)

Throughout the 1990s the corporate-owned media was full of propaganda about how prosperous our economy was: “The stock market is sky-rocketing… The unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in 30 years.” Politicians made it sound as if times had never been better. However, the conveniently ignored reality is that only a few college graduates received high salaries in the so-called “New Economy” spurred by internet technology innovation. Most of those are now dot.gone belly up. The generation entering the workforce today is the first generation in US history to have a lower standard of living than the generation before.

One cost-cutting strategy of US manufacturers has been to lay off unionized workers and move production to poor or developing countries where there are weaker environmental and labor regulations. In 1973, the manufacturing sector accounted for approximately 26% of all jobs. Now the manufacturing sector accounts for only 15% and the number of retail jobs has more than doubled, to over 22.5 million

Companies are also laying-off older workers, who earned raises for loyally working for their companies for most of their adult lives. They are being replaced with cheaper, unskilled, younger workers.

Another cost-cutting strategy of management has been to massively expand the “flexible workforce.” Today part-time, temporary workers, and ‘out-sourced’ jobs make up approximately 1/2 of the workforce. The largest private employer in the US is the temporary agency called Manpower Inc. Over half of all temp workers are under the age of 35. In a recent survey of young temp workers, more than 50% indicated that they would prefer a “regular job” and more than a quarter indicated that a temp job was the only one that they could find.(2)

Temp workers earn on average 16.5% less than they would at regular jobs. They usually do not have healthcare or pension benefits, union representation, or a safe workplace that meets federal Occupational Safety and Health Act standards.

Jared Young, an 18-year-old worker, said, “It seems like there are only two types of jobs left - jobs that require no skills and jobs that demand a 4-year degree. Most people fall into the first category.”

The economic slowdown in the US has already affected temp workers. The July 22, 2001 New York Times reported that, “...the number of temporary workers employed on an average day fell 7.8% in the first three months of this year.” As the economy continues to slump, this trend is likely to worsen, particularly among young workers, who tend to be the last hired and first fired.

A massive union organizing campaign in the service sector and among temp workers is needed, to raise living standards and to revitalize declining union membership. Workers who are 35 and younger currently make up less than 28% of union membership and only 5% of workers under 25 are unionized.(3)

The government should create paid apprenticeship programs to train young people for jobs at union wages and benefits. In the richest country in the world, the low quality and lack of funding for our education is a scandal. Higher education should be free, to relieve the post education student loan burden.

Students should not wait until they graduate to start organizing. There are plenty of issues to get involved in on campus directly related to the work life students will encounter after graduation. They could begin by organizing student workers, teaching assistants and other workers on campus into unions.

On and off campus they could build the fight for living wages and mobilize to change curricula to reflect the needs of society instead of the needs of big corporations. They could scrap tuition fees and student loan payments, push for free, universal education for all and against the discriminatory and racist admission policies of most universities.

While we are at it, why not organize student meetings, demonstrations and solidarity actions with workers on strike or communities in struggle off campus? That would certainly keep students in closer relationship with the world they will encounter after they graduate.

(1) When Good Jobs Go Bad: Young Adults and Temporary Work in the New Economy, Helene J. Jorgensen, 2030 Center.
(2) Ibid.
(3) High Hopes, Little Trust: A Study of Young Workers and Their Ups and Downs in the New Economy, AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers.


Posted by Elvis on 05/08/05 •
Section General Reading
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Cinderella The Contractor

Ever wonder how Cinderella felt inside while her step sisters were at the Ball?

In RISING OF THE TELECOM UNDERCLASS Parts ONE and TWO, I explored some issues that may be facing middle class, middle aged, layed off telecom workers like myself - too young and financially unprepared for retirement, and too old to be attractive to employers (younger workers cost less than older ones.) For those of us working as contractors or temps, treatement at the client’s establishment may be another emotionally and psychologically challenging issue.

Last month was Sprint’s Annual Picnic.  Employees went.  Contractors and temps like myself were made to stay and watch the shop while every one else celebrated. 

Still numbed from the PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF DOWNSIZING - this is an added blow to self esteem, reinforcing feelings of worthlessness - and drawing parallels between life as a contractor - and life as a doormat.

Now I know how Cinderella felt.

Posted by Elvis on 05/08/05 •
Section Telecom Underclass
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