Precarious Employment Spreading in USA

working-at-living-croppedNew Orleans       Unstable and precarious employment and income is something that every union organizer in labor unions involved in the service sector recognizes as a daily fact of life for workers.

In Walmart, 1o years ago, just as it is today, we organized Walmart workers in Florida against the computer scheduling from Bentonville, Arkansas that would take them from 40 hours to 24 hours to 16 then back to 32 and anywhere they felt based on their algorithms.

In nursing home, home care, mental health centers, head start work, childcare centers, schools, and countless other service sector work, our members and other workers live with seasonal work, and sometimes no unemployment benefits, standard shifts are often 35 hours or 32 hours, and with the pressure of the Affordable Care Act mandate dipping below 30 on an average to escape payment.

Now new reports are coming down on us like a hard rain as others discover and document this increasing precariousness.

· A 2012 study by government and university economists found that “household income became noticeably more volatile between 1970 and the late 2000s” despite a period of “increase stability throughout the economy as a whole.”
· A 2013 Federal Reserve report according to the New York Times, “suggests the problem has not only persisted as the economy recovers, but may even have worsened. More than 30 percent of Americans reported spikes and dips in their income. Among that group 42 percent cited an irregular work schedule; and additional 27 percent blamed a span of joblessness or seasonal work.”
· U.S. Financial Diaries has released an in-depth report on low-and-moderate income families and finds that almost all of them “experienced a drop in monthly income of at least 25 percent in a single year.”
· There are now 7 million people working part time in the US who indicate that they would prefer full-time work but can’t find it, accounting for 4.5% of the workforce, almost double the figure before the recession.

Given this internal, hidden inequality it should not come as a surprise, as organizers also find routinely, that many lower income, lower waged families view financial stability as a higher priority than higher wages or advancement. The bird in the hand can be eaten, while the bird in the bush, no matter how close, can easily disappear leaving the family in bad straits.

Is there a plan? No way!

In fact, a Department of Labor study of the records of 300,000 minimum wage workers in New York State and California found that employers routinely short pay 3.5 to 7% of all such workers. Extended and supplemental unemployment benefits have been caught repeatedly in Congressional deadlocks as well. Families caught in these crises are then caught in cycle of dependence on our families, relatives, predatory loans, and whatever it takes to pay the bills.

Are we responding by organizing these workers aggressively? Not so much.

All of which indicates that this is a mess that stands to continue to worsen since there still appears to be no light at the end of the deep tunnel where so many US families are currently falling.

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