Finding a job this Labor Day is not easy in a country with 8.3 percent unemployment and sluggish growth. Both presidential candidates are claiming they will outdo the other in the creation of more American jobs. But the majority of jobs created in the recovery have been low-wage ones. Both candidates need to address not only how to add jobs, but good jobs for average Americans to address legitimate concern over economic fairness and ensure a thriving middle class.
America's rising income inequality — worse than at any time since the Gilded Age — is a problem that is more often talked about by politicians than acted upon. Beginning after World War II, American workers' wages rose in tandem with the country's economic performance, nearly doubling by the early 1970s. Since then, median hourly wages have gone up less than 11 percent. The winners instead have been the nation's top 1 percent, who between 1979 and 2007 saw their annual earnings grow 156 percent, according to the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute. In 1980, compensation for chief executives at some of the nation's largest companies was 42 times the pay of the average worker; now it's more than 300 times.
This imbalance came about through the withering of the social contract. Where once American workers were promised that in exchange for hard, loyal work they would receive a share of rising profits and job security, now they consider themselves lucky if their job hasn't been outsourced or their benefits cut to boost short-term stock performance. The recovery is exacerbating this race to the bottom. Of the jobs created, 58 percent have been low-wage, in fields such as retail sales and food preparation, while mid-wage jobs in construction, manufacturing and information account for 60 percent of job losses, according to a study by the National Employment Law Project. America's middle-class is eroding.
Both political parties are to blame. Republicans openly disparage unions and, unlike in years past, the party's platform no longer explicitly recognizes collective bargaining rights. Democrats are more worker-friendly but have failed to update the nation's antiquated labor laws. For instance, the United States still stands as the only advanced country without guaranteed sick leave.
This Labor Day, more Americans need jobs. But they also need jobs that pay the bills, help them save and keep a roof over their heads. In the rush to November, both parties should be telling Americans what they'll do to help foster not just more jobs, but better jobs.