Thursday, February 19, 2015

Falling Wages, Falling Marriage Rates

And now, because this is (occasionally) a labor blog:

The Death of American Unions Is Killing American Marriage

For all the mawkish, maudlin conservative hand-wringing about the state of marriage among the working class—recall Republican Mitt Romney, among others, recently claiming marriage as the solution to poverty—a post-mortem on marriage among the less materially fortunate turns up fascinating results. Poverty itself, it seems, is the chief agent of marital decline among the poor. This is especially true of falling wages among working class men, who have borne the brunt of the right-wing war on labor unions. ...

Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell pointed it out in the New York Times:

Forty years ago, about nine of 10 American men between the ages of 30 and 50 were married, and the most highly paid men were just slightly more likely to wed than those paid least. Since then, earnings for men in the top tenth of the income distribution have risen and their marriage rates have fallen slightly, from 95 percent in 1970 to 83 percent today. […] [M]en in the bottom quartile of earnings have had a wage cut of 60 percent, and a contemporaneous drop in marriage rates to about 50 percent, from 86 percent.

... [Columnist Nicholas] Kristof cites a study conducted by professors at Harvard and the University of Washington that concludes “the decline of the U.S. labor movement has added as much to men’s wage inequality as has the relative increase in pay for college graduates.” The authors continue:

[U]nions helped shape the allocation of wages not just for their members, but across the labor market. The decline of U.S. labor and the associated increase in wage inequality signaled the deterioration of the labor market as a political institution. Workers became less connected to each other in their organizational lives and less connected in their economic fortunes.

In other words, the decline of labor unions not only reduced workers’ control of their economic destinies by decoupling them from the fates of their fellow workers, but also allowed for rapid wage decreases that put lower-income laborers at a financial distance from more privileged employees within highly unionized industries and outside them. ...

In 1973, about the time I separated from active duty with the U.S. Navy, the American labor movement began its long decline. It's been declining ever since, and as it's lost power, the Republican Party has become more anti-labor. (It's not the party of Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower anymore, but the willing accomplice of the Big Dogs among us.)

And funny thing. As the percentage of unionized households has cratered, the middle class's share of national income has gone down with it:

Weird, huh? I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

The only thing weirder is how so much of the population chooses to vote against its own economic self-interest, buying into peripheral flap-doodle (Ebola! ISIS! Benghazi! Gay marriage! Kenyan Socialist!) even as it's beaten, robbed and left with little more than a worn pair of sneakers.

But in politics and labor battles (as the cliche goes), there are no permanent victories, or permanent defeats. And I wouldn't hazard a guess as to where the population will be in ten ... fifteen ... thirty years. I only hope it's not some 21st Century version of the Middle Ages.


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