Is the Middle Class an Endangered Species?
The growing gap between lower and upper classes continues to multiply. You know the saying, "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?" Well in today’s world that is all too true. One can blame the growing evolution of globalism and the corporations that have access to workers anywhere in the world. One can blame horrible politics that give preferential treatment and benefits to immigrants and refugees over their own citizens. One can blame it on technological advances that are making blue collar jobs disappear and get replaced by robots or AI. Or one can accept that all of these issues are somewhat to blame, and that the changes occurring are likely irreversible as the global population continues to soar and the need for humans to produce items continues to decline.
A clear sign that the trend of the Middle Class is continuing to be fragmented between the haves and the have-nots can be seen in the policies not being set by the government but rather the choices that businesses and corporations are taking themselves.
Take the actions of Walmart for instance, there could be no clearer sign that the Middle Class is in trouble than the recent steps Walmart has taken. The well known and universally recognized retailer has shifted gears to target high-income customers with their recent acquisitions of brands like Bonobos, Shoebuy, Modcloth, and Lord & Taylor.
Walmart has begun redirecting their website efforts to create a "premium fashion destination," according to Denise Incandela, the head of fashion for Walmart US e-commerce.
Walmart's strategy is to shift away from the Middle Class, this is noteworthy, if not alarming, since the late 1950s retailers couldn’t keep up with the growth of the middle class, wages and families were growing, and people’s ‘excess income’ or buying power continued to grow through to the 1990s.
But today, with the Middle Class shrinking, retailers and department stores that once appealed to them are being forced to change their strategies or go bankrupt. Compounding this problem is the ease with which people shop online for more and more products. The Internet’s big success with items like clothing and office supplies has spread to perishable food items and even cooked meal delivery from five star restaurants.
As the wage and benefits stagnation becomes regressive, the growth of dollar stores and even home-grown and self-made items continues to become more popular. It seems the executives at Walmart have taken notice, and believe that if Walmart is going to continue to thrive they need to attract higher-income consumers. The alternative doesn’t seem to offer much hope of profit.
You can read more about Walmart’s change in direction HERE.
A personal view: I graduated high school and decided to go to work for a year fulltime, I found a good paying job with benefits and opportunity for overtime, it was stocking shelves for a unionized grocery store chain, it was hard work but it paid well. Working there for a year allowed me to save up enough money to buy a brand new pick-up, and have plenty of spending money set aside for ‘expenses’ when going to college fulltime the following year (which led to my discovering the ROTC program, which led to the Reserves, which led to Active duty, which led to many deployments, but that’s not relevant to this story).
The reason why I bring that job up, is because back then stocking shelves offered good pay, excellent medical and dental insurance, a pension plan, paid vacation, etc. Fast forward more than a dozen years later, and that job paid the same wage, offered fewer fulltime opportunities, less benefits, and less stability. Fast forward another dozen years (over a quarter century in total), and that job pays less in hourly wage, offers less benefits, and is no longer supported by a unionized workforce.
And this is the direction a majority of fields in America has trended over the last 25 years. To say wages and benefits have ‘stagnated’ in most fields is to put it mildly, especially when one factors in inflation.
This is complicated not just by advances in technology, but corporate greed and pursuit of profits over giving back to the community. Large chains have no loyalty to local communities, they are only interested in maximizing profits and stifling competition.
Our government cedes the interest of the American worker to the interests of the corporation by allowing the H1-B and H2-B visa programs to displace hundreds of thousands of American workers with foreign laborers that will work for far less, and who do not have the ability to fight for their worker’s rights or benefits.
This includes what NAFTA has allowed, brought into existence a quarter century ago. One example of how this has hurt the American worker is the thousands of truckers who used to pick up shipments at the border of Mexico or Canada and deliver them throughout America, they no longer have that work, as driver’s from Canada and Mexico are now allowed to drive throughout America and deliver their freight and pick it up as well.
NAFTA helped the corporations, and the economies of other nations, it did not help the American worker, it did not help the American economy. H1-B, H2-B and other worker programs do not help the American workers (or college graduates looking for work) it helps the corporation’s profits. And our ‘open border’ policies certainly do not help, for a great variety of reasons, but specific to this issue is that national companies like Toll Bros. and Tyson foods hire thousands of undocumented workers to do the jobs that would otherwise pay Americans good wages and benefits.
When it comes to politics and policies, these are some of the things we need to learn to recognize and agree on, the primary of which is corporatism has become too dominant in our national policies and laws, as well as our international efforts and laws. If we cannot agree, if we cannot see this truth, we cannot move forward to better the lives of all Americans, and future generations.
International Corporatism has become a monster that is tearing apart all societies and all nations that are not already strong non-democracies (such as China), of the hundred leading economies of the world today, more than 60 of them are Corporations, not Nation states, and that continues to weigh more and more in Corporation’s favor as the years go by.
A few years back the Supreme Court ruled that Corporations themselves had the rights of people, the high court ruled that corporations have the right to spend money in candidate elections, one of many judgements in recent years that empowered Corporations in ways that were restricted for over one hundred years.
For 100 years, Corporations were not given any Constitutional right to directly involve themselves in politics. In 1907, following a corporate corruption scandal involving prior presidential campaigns, Congress passed a law banning corporate involvement in federal election campaigns.
Then came Citizens United, and in 2010 the Supreme Court essentially reversed those protections installed more than 100 years earlier giving corporations full rights to spend money as they wished in candidate elections, federal, state and local.
In total, the growth of International Corporations wealth and power, and the removal of protections from them injecting their money and power into elections, means that the people, who are represented by the politicians of Nations, become less represented, less powerful, until they become little more than commodities whose importance depends as much on what they can purchase as what they can produce. In short, as the corporations gain more power, and Nation states will continue to fail.
The dangers of this are hidden by idealist talk of ‘One World’ of no cultures, no boundaries, no races. The corporations will never be responsive to the people’s wants or needs, they have no need to be, they are not beholden to any one geographical area, or one culture, they are beholden only to their own interests and profits.
The very real threat is that the ‘One World’ will not lead to an uplifting of humanity, it will lead to its subjugation, its serfdom. If matter of race, religion, and nations will become irrelevant, it will only matter if you are of the 1% or if you are of the other 99%, you will either be one of the elite, or one of the commodities.
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© 2017 Ken Burgess