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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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It’s a Fairness Thing

The United States has lost over 7 million jobs since the end of 2007, on top of the 7 million officially unemployed people before the official start of this “recession.” Recession? Please. Since then, over 7 million new workers have come of age or graduated and entered the workforce. We’re about 22 million jobs in the hole, and that doesn’t count those who have dropped out.

The number of civilians officially unemployed for at least 27 weeks shot up to over six million at the end of 2009 and has stayed there, even with the ginned stats and “seasonal adjustments.” This is unprecedented, by a wide margin, since this statistic (the “UEMP27OV” number) was first kept by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1948.

And the relentless pressure downward continues from our leaders, on salaries and opportunities and quality of life. Just the other day, the Governor of Maine signed into law one of the centerpieces of his economic development plan: Now teenagers in that state can work longer and later hours on school nights. This will allow the owners of restaurants and amusement parks to hire a higher percentage of teens, who don’t earn as much as adults.

The message if pretty clear: You are ours, until you are unnecessary equipment. So relax, because we can make things worse for you.

“It’s a fairness thing,” said a leading Pennsylvania state legislator just the other day, as he proposed reducing unemployment benefits from the current average of $324 to $277 a month. He said that some people use unemployment payments to take a nine month “vacation.” Show me anywhere I can vacation for $324 a week. Indiana, which already has low property and personal income taxes, cut their weekly unemployment payments just over 22 percent, but they’re cutting the corporate tax rate by 25 percent over the next four years. Fairness.

This month, a closed factory in North Canton, Ohio, will begin making air purifiers, space heaters and vacuums for a company that was having them manufactured in China. 1,000 people lined up to apply on the first day. Those jobs pay an average of $7.50 an hour. Until it closed in 2007, that factory made vacuum cleaners and paid workers an average of more than $20. American workers are now desperate enough to work for a salary that can compete with Chinese workers.

More and more terrified Americans understand that only the weak, the unambitious and the unproductive worry about vacations, or time off. The latest major study of how many days off an average worker (ten years experience and a five-day work week) receives each year ranks the U.S. 38th out of 41 industrialized countries. A recent study of OECD countries (the world’s 30 most advanced economies) found that the U.S. was the only one that did not require employers nationwide to provide paid leave of any kind. Every other industrialized government recognizes that having a personal life is a matter of public health and common sense. We don’t do that in this country anymore.

Last week, Ad Age (the trade journal of the advertising and marketing industries) published an incredible and disturbing report. Traditionally, marketing and advertising were geared to the vast Middle Class, and the wealthy was a niche market. Now, “Mass affluence is over,” and marketers are targeting only the wealthiest ten percent of U.S. households, which “have outsize purchasing influence.” The “incomes of most American workers have remained more or less static since the 1970s” and even targeting those making between $100,000 and $200,000 doesn’t make much sense, since they don’t “feel” rich. Successful advertisers should concentrate on those under 35 years old who already make $100,000 or more, since they will have a higher chance of crossing the “golden threshold” of $200,000, making themselves worthy of advertising efforts.

Wall Street took a bat to the American Dream, and Madison Avenue is moving on to the next profitable thing. That may not include the turnpikes of Long Island.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net