Breadlines: The Impact of Budget Cuts on Citizen Wealth

Growing Poverty in London, picture from Breadlines Series in the Guardian

Toronto   If anyone really wants to know what the impact of Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget proposals, Tea Party harangues, and Republic policy propositions would be for working people, it might be worth taking a look at the impact of the current austerity program in Britain under the conservative government there.  A friend in Toronto sent me a note about the “Breadlines” series currently running in the Guardian, which is a sad and tragic eye opener about what happens when politics of cutbacks is implemented.

Make no mistake, these measures are frontal attacks on the efforts of working families, albeit making lower wages, to build any citizen wealth or income security.  Statistics released last week in the USA indicate that family wealth has now fallen to a bit over $100,000 per white household, around $7500 for Hispanic households, and hardly $5000 for African-American households:  a 20-1 gap racially!  No small part of this has been the unaddressed loss of home value which is the key factor in citizen wealth for the majority of working families.  Given the ongoing housing crisis this should not be a surprise, but it still is a shock for those living there, and more pain is being proposed.

In the attack on working families, Britain has already “been there and done that.”  An article in The Guardian series lays out the problem:

The last year has been one of the most difficult in living memory for Britain’s households. The economy continues to falter, and few have enjoyed a pay rise – which, with the spike in the cost of living means millions of wages have fallen in real terms. Employers try to avoid sacking employees by cutting their hours instead – sometimes pushing workers below the requisite number of hours at which they can claim tax credits – and the government has introduced an £18bn programme of welfare cuts.

Living standards have plummeted for many but, say charities, the group that has been particularly hit are those in low-paid or insecure employment. Those on benefits see their income rise in line with inflation but last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies revealed the sharpest one-year fall in middle incomes since 1981, reversing five years of growth in a single year.

Outnumbering the 5.5 million working-age adults already living in poverty in the UK – officially defined as households with incomes of less than 60% of the median average – those suffering in-work poverty include couples without children who have a gross annual household income of between £12,000 and £29,000, and couples with two children on £17,000 to £41,000.

18 billion pounds in welfare benefit cuts is a huge blow as well.  Amazingly, it is based on something called a “work capability assessment” to see who qualifies and who doesn’t.  For some reason the British contracted that task out to a French outfit, and the process is caught in constant appeals over denial of benefits in what is now a draconian system:

At the centre of the controversy is the work capability assessment (WSA), the test carried out in the UK by the French healthcare firm Atos that is designed to identify people on incapacity benefit who are “fit for work”. Critics say it fails to pick up complex and fluctuating conditions such as mental health. It is widely feared by vulnerable claimants – and for those who are found fit for work, it can trigger a long, stressful cycle of appeals.

What a nightmare!  Coming to a home near yours soon.

Job Centre in London

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Singing the Songs of Hard Jobs at Low Pay

Nimagesew Orleans Just like the next guy, I am a huge fan of anyone who agrees with me and sings verses of my songs, especially if by some total, blooming miracle it turns out to be on the op-ed page of the New York Times, but that is by god where Charles Blow rolls out his fact-based, math heavy opinions, and I love him for it.  Recently in a piece entitled “They, Too, Sing America,” he reminded people of the obvious, whether we like it or not, that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics half of the top 30 occupations likely to experience the largest job growth in coming years are low-wage or “very low-wage,” as he calls it.  Furthermore 7 of the top 10 are in fastest growing job are in that lowly wage category.
This is really not news, expect that people keep trying to act like it is not the case every time we talk about raising the minimum wage for the gazillion low wage workers in America or hunkering down more and dealing with informal and low wage workers as a key ingredient of the jobs market and economy recovery.
For example once again home health care aides are expected to add almost a half-million workers over the ten year period 2008-2018.  Home health care aides are virtually informal workers, as I have often argued, and these numbers may not reflect the real numbers in my view once you had family members, sitters, and folks doing the work for cash-on-the-barrelhead, but it turns out through some kind of BLS novelty, those workers are simply called “personal and home care aides” and add another 375000+ jobs at very low wages for the same period.  Over the last several decades home health care aides have always been in the top ten.  Nothing new and different about this.

The other lower wage jobs that Blow helpfully charts from the BLS numbers, while ranking their wages are the following:

Home health aides                            460,900 jobs        very low wages
Customer service representatives        399,500 jobs        low wages
Combined food prep & serving workers        394,300 jobs    very low (includes fast food)
Personal and home care aides            375,800 jobs        very low
Retail salespersons                               374,700 jobs        very low
Office clerks, general                           358,700 jobs        low
Nursing aides, orderlies, attendants        276,000 jobs        low
Construction laborers                           255,900 jobs        low
Landscaping & groundskeeping          217,100 jobs        low
Receptionists & information clerks     172,900 jobs        low
Medical assistants                                  163, 900 jobs        low
Security guards                                        152,000 jobs        low
Waiters and waitresses                          151,600 jobs        very low
Childcare workers                                  142,100 jobs        very low
Teacher assistants                                   134,900 jobs        low

Get a grip.  Your children’s education, your children’s day care, the food you eat, your safety, your yard and public space, the advice and help you need when shopping, and virtually everything about your personal health care in the prime of your life and totally as you age, is in the hands of workers hardly busting minimum wage.

There ought to be a law, but unfortunately, most of the laws protecting these workers don’t get much attention or are totally ignored.

You know it’s not right.

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