Friday, June 24, 2005

Americans are taking economic hits from all directions

Very good article by Rick Wilson



June 23, 2005
Rick Wilson
· Americans are taking economic hits from all directions

American workers got an overall pay cut last year for the first time in 14 years. Wages increased by just 2.5 percent, while prices increased by 2.7 percent. The pay cuts happened despite an economy that grew by 4 percent last year, higher than the 3 percent historical average.

Although the pie is growing, the share going to workers is getting smaller. According to the Los Angeles Times, while real wages fell, “corporate profits hit record highs as companies got more productivity out of workers while keeping pay raises down.”

The same paper reports that “For now, workers’ wallets are being pummeled by something of a perfect storm of economic forces: a weak job market, rising health insurance premiums and inflationary pressures.”

It’s a different story for CEO's of major corporations. A study by the Wall Street Journal reports that “the median salary and bonus for chief executives in office at least two years soared by 14.5 percent last year to $2,470,600.” The increase is the largest since the study began in 1989.

It’s even better if you're the CEO of a major oil company. Now that’s a shock. Who could have seen that one coming? The Center for American Progress reports that oil company CEO's as a group were the highest paid executives in 2004, with compensation packages, not including stock options, of $16.6 million. That’s an increase of 109 percent over the previous year.
Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, at this writing, average gas prices are around $2.30 per gallon, up 49 cents from last year.

Here’s something to make you feel warm and fuzzy when you pay for your next fill-up using an installment plan: we can at least take comfort in the fact that gas prices didn't go up as far and as fast as the pay of oil company CEO's.

I guess that’s the Bush administration’s version of shared sacrifice during wartime.
In the same spirit, the administration and its allies in Congress are pushing for drastic cuts in vital programs in order to pay for even more tax giveaways for the rich. This Robin Hood in reverse policy is more important to these people than education for children, training for displaced workers, or police and fire protection for communities.

Also on the chopping block is the earned income tax credit (EITC), which benefits hardworking families — including tens of thousands of military families. Every year, the EITC lifts millions of children out of poverty. In the most recent year for which we have numbers, the EITC helped more than 139,000 West Virginia families and brought almost $233 million to the state’s economy.

And after grandstanding about the tragic case of Medicaid beneficiary Terry Schiavo, the same extreme Republicans in Congress who did the posturing now have the gall to propose cutting billions from the program that can literally make the difference between life and death for millions of Americans, including over 373,883 West Virginians.

Holy hypocrisy, Batman!

This country urgently needs a new direction, one in which the common good of all is at least — or even almost — as important as the private profits of a privileged few. If that sounds a little radical, it’s pretty mild compared with the Preamble of the Constitution, which talks about things like forming a more perfect union, establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, and promoting the general welfare.

And the folks at the top might want to consider taking the advice of Shakespeare’s King Lear: “Take physic, pomp; Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, That thou mayst shake the superflux to them And show the heavens more just.”

**Wilson, executive director of a West Virginia social action group, is a Gazette contributing columnist.

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