Tag Archives: wages

Globalization took hits in 2016; Will 2017 lead to more?

Globalization, the path that the world economy has largely followed for decades, took some hefty blows in 2016.

The election of Donald Trump as U.S. president and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union have raised questions over the future of tariff-free trade and companies’ freedom to move production to lower-cost countries.

Borders are back in vogue. Economic nationalism is paying political dividends.

“We want our country back” was the rallying cry of those backing Brexit, a sound bite that had echoes in Trump’s “Make America great again.”

The rise of Trump and the triumph of Brexit had their roots in the global financial crisis of 2008.

Eight years later, the world economy has still not yet fully gotten past that shock to its confidence — people are nervous, some are angry, and many are seeking novel solutions to their problems. Next year, there’s scope for more uncertainty with elections in France and Germany.

Here’s a look at the year’s top business stories for 2016:

BREXIT SHOCK

In what was a sign of things to come, Britain voted to leave the EU in a referendum in June. The decision came as a surprise — certainly to bookmakers and many pollsters who had consistently given the “remain” side the edge — and means Britain has to redefine itself after 43 years of EU membership. David Cameron resigned as prime minister after the vote and the new Conservative government led by Theresa May is planning to trigger the formal process by which Britain exits the EU early next year. There are many shades of potential Brexit, from an outright divorce that could put up tariffs on goods and services, to a more amicable parting that sees many of the current trading arrangements kept in place. The pound’s fall to a 31-year low below $1.20 at one point is testament to that uncertainty.

 

TRUMP CARD

Pollsters and bookmakers got it wrong again a few months later when Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential election. Whether he translates his “America First” platform into action following his inauguration in January will help shape the global economy for the next four years at least. Trump has railed against long-standing trading agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, and vowed to punish China for the way it devalues its currency against the dollar and to tax U.S. firms that move jobs overseas. He has also laid out plans to bring America’s creaking infrastructure up to 21st-century standards, a new spending pitch that has the potential to boost jobs — but which could also lay the seeds of higher inflation.

MARKETS MARCH ON

Trump’s victory did not cause the bottom to fall out of the stock market rally that’s been largely in place since 2009, when the world economy started to first claw out of its deepest recession since World War II.

In fact, both the Dow and the S&P 500 rallied to hit a series of record highs. Stocks have also benefited from a raft of big corporate deals this year — executives are seeing takeovers as a fast way to generate growth in what is otherwise a low-growth global economy disrupted by non-stop technological innovations.

Notable deals in 2016 included the announcement of an $85 billion merger of Time Warner and AT&T and the $57 billion takeover of Monsanto by Germany medicine and farm-chemical maker Bayer. The $100 billion takeover of SABMiller by Budweiser maker Anheuser-Busch InBev was also completed.

FED FINALLY DELIVERS

During his campaign, Trump criticized Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, saying she should be “ashamed” of the way she’s run policy since taking the helm in 2014. A year ago, the Fed appeared set to follow up its first interest rate hike in nearly a decade with three or four more in 2016. But there was no move until Dec. 14, when the U.S. central bank raised its main interest rate to a range between 0.5 percent and 0.75 percent. Many factors explained its hesitation to raise rates, including unease over the global impact of China’s economic slowdown and uncertainty surrounding the U.S. election. But with the U.S. economy continuing to do better than most developed countries — with unemployment below 5 percent and inflation on the way up — the Fed finally delivered another hike. The markets are predicting another three or four increases next year. Those expectations have helped the dollar rally, especially as other major central banks persevere with super-loose monetary policies to breathe life into their economies.

CHINA’S KEY ROLE

As the world’s second-largest economy, China is playing a bigger role in the functioning of the global economy. Nowhere was that more evident than in the early months of 2016, when jitters over the scale of the slowdown in China caused wild swings in financial markets. Stocks took a pounding while commodities tanked, with oil skidding to 13-year lows, as traders factored in lower demand from resource-hungry China. The slump in commodities weighed heavily on economies like Australia that are big exporters of raw materials. China’s economy is ending the year in relatively good health as authorities try to pivot the economy’s focus from manufacturing to more consumer spending. But Trump’s promises to take a tough stance in trade will be of concern to Beijing.

OPEC TAKES A STAND

For the first time since December 2008, at the height of the financial crisis, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries cut its production levels in 2016. November’s cut, soon followed by more cuts by non-OPEC countries like Russia, helped push oil prices sharply higher. At over $50 a barrel, benchmark New York crude is markedly higher than the near 13-year lows around $30 recorded at the start of 2016, when investors focused on high supply and concerns over an economic slowdown. The oil slump helped put several crude-producing countries into severe recessions, including Brazil and Venezuela, and even saw wealthy Saudi Arabia cut back on spending. The question for 2017 is whether OPEC — and non-OPEC — countries can deliver on their production promises. If they do and higher oil prices stick, that will push up inflation in the global economy.

IT JUST GRATES

One of the major reasons why popular sentiment has turned against governments has been a growing distrust of elites. Perhaps nothing illustrated the issue more than the “Panama Papers,” a leaked trove of data on thousands of offshore accounts that helped the wealthy, the powerful and celebrities shelter their cash from the taxman, often without breaking the law. Critics say these tax schemes are the core of a system that gives an unfair advantage to big corporations and the wealthy. Outrage grew in the U.S. when it was revealed that Wells Fargo employees opened up to 2 million bank and credit card accounts fraudulently to meet sales goals. Bank employees also allegedly moved money between those accounts and created fake email addresses to sign customers up for online banking.

It just grates.

‘12 Days’ of Christmas now costs $34,363

The slow recovery of the U.S. economy is continuing to keep the cost of Christmas — or at least the gifts listed in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” — from spiraling out of control.

The price of two turtle doves jumped from $290 to $375 this year, but nine of the other 12 gifts listed in the carol stayed the same price or became cheaper, including a partridge in a pear tree, according to the 33rd annual PNC Wealth Management Christmas Price Index released Thursday.

As a result, the overall cost of the gifts listed in the song increased 0.7 percent to $34,363, up $233 from last year’s total of $34,131.

PNC Financial Services Group releases the price index each year as a whimsical way of tracking inflation.

Besides the turtle doves, only the cost of 11 pipers piping and 12 drummers drumming _ both up 2.8 percent _ increased.

Thomas Melcher, chief Investment officers for PNC Asset Management Group, said the increasing wages of drummers and pipers could signal a march toward higher wages for a broader range of workers in 2017. He said he wouldn’t be surprised to see increases coming for the eight maids-a-milking, nine ladies dancing and 10 lords-a-leaping.

“There are some underlying inflationary pressures that seem to be building,” Melcher said.

The price of five gold rings, as tracked by PNC, hasn’t gone up in three years, even though the price of gold as a commodity has.

“At a certain point, the end product should begin to reflect the price appreciation of the commodity,” Melcher said.

PNC calculates the prices from sources including retailers, bird hatcheries and two Philadelphia dance groups, the Pennsylvania Ballet and Philadanco.

The cost of buying the same gifts online is $44,603 this year, up 2.2 percent from $43,627 last year. But Melcher cautioned that’s largely because it costs more to transport animals and performers — 10 lords-a-leaping cost $5,509 in-person, but $13,373 online because of transportation costs — than the cost of the items themselves.

“In most instances, it’s cheaper to shop online,” Melcher said. “I’ve never personally shipped a swan, but I imagine it’s not the cheapest endeavor in the world.”

A buyer who purchased all the gifts each time they are mentioned in the song would spend $156,507, up $1,100 from last year.

The full set of prices for purchasing the gifts from a bricks-and-mortar business, not online, is:

• Partridge, $20; last year: $25

• Pear tree, $190; last year: same

• Two turtle doves, $375; last year: $290

• Three French hens, $182; last year: same

• Four calling birds (canaries), $600; last year: same

• Five gold rings, $750; last year: same

• Six geese-a-laying, $360; last year: same

• Seven swans a-swimming, $13,125; last year: same

• Eight maids a-milking, $58; last year: same

• Nine ladies dancing (per performance), $7,553; last year: same

• 10 lords a-leaping (per performance), $5,509; last year: same

• 11 pipers piping (per performance), $2,708; last year: $2,635

• 12 drummers drumming (per performance), $2,934; last year: $2,855

Report: Fight for $15 wins $62 billion in raises over 4 years

The Fight for $15 marked its fourth anniversary this week with strikes, protests and civil disobedience from coast to coast. A report from the National Employment Law Project says since the movement’s launch in New York in 2012, the Fight for $15 has won nearly $62 billion in raises.

 

“The Fight for $15’s impact towers over past congressional action because it has been propelled by what workers need — not what moderate compromise might allow,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, in a news release. “As a result, workers have been fighting for and winning much bigger raises for much more of the workforce than ever before.”

The NELP analysis quantifies the impact of the Fight for $15. Some key findings:

• Since the Fight for $15 launched in 2012, underpaid workers have won $61.5 billion in raises from a combination of state and local minimum wage increases from New York to California and action by employers ranging from McDonald’s to Walmart to raise their companies’ minimum pay scales. This includes the additional annual income that workers will receive after the approved increases fully phase in.

  • Of the $61.5 billion in additional income, two-thirds is the result of $15 minimum wage laws that the Fight for $15 pressed for in California, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, SeaTac and Washington, D.C.
  • At least 19 million workers nationwide will benefit from raises sparked by the Fight for $15.
  • 2.1 million workers won raises in November, when voters approved minimum wage ballot initiatives in Arizona ($12 by 2020), Colorado ($12 by 2020), Maine ($12 by 2020), Washington State ($13.50 by 2020), and Flagstaff, Arizona ($15 by 2021).

The raises sparked by the Fight for $15 are beginning to reverse decades of wage declines that have resulted in 43 percent of the workforce, or 60 million workers, being paid less than $15 per hour.

Across the United States, the median wage rose 5.6 percent last year, the largest increase since at least the 1960s, according to the report.

Strikers arrested during protests for better wages, fight for $15

Police on Nov. 29 handcuffed fast-food cooks and cashiers, Uber drivers and home health aides and airport workers who blocked streets outside McDonald’s restaurants from New York to Chicago.

The demonstrators had launched a nationwide wave of strikes and civil disobedience by working Americans in the Fight for $15.

In Detroit, dozens of fast-food and home care workers wearing shirts that read, “My Future is My Freedom” linked arms in front of a McDonald’s and sat down in the street. As the workers were led to a police bus, hundreds of supporters chanted, “No Justice, No Peace.”

In New York City’s Financial District, dozens of fast-food workers placed a banner reading “We Won’t Back Down” on the street in front of a McDonald’s on Broadway and a sat down in a circle, blocking traffic, until they were hauled away by police officers.

In Chicago, scores of workers sat in the street next to a McDonald’s as supporters unfurled a giant banner from a grocery store next door that read: “We Demand $15 and Union Rights, Stop Deportations, Stop Killing Black People.” Fast-food, home care and higher education workers were arrested, along with Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

The strikes rolled westward, as workers walked off their jobs in 340 cities. They were demanding decent wages and union rights. Among them were baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and skycaps on picket lines at Boston Logan International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport to protest.

“We won’t back down until we win an economy that works for all Americans, not just the wealthy few at the top,” said Naquasia LeGrand, a McDonald’s worker from Albemarle, North Carolina. “Working moms like me are struggling all across the country and until politicians and corporations hear our voices, our Fight for $15 is going to keep on getting bigger, bolder and ever more relentless.”

The wave of strikes, civil disobedience, and protests follows an election defined by workers’ frustration with an economy and business practices that have meant only stagnant wages.

“To too many of us who work hard, but can’t support our families. America doesn’t feel fair anymore,” said Oliwia Pac, who was on strike from her job as a wheelchair attendant at O’Hare. “If we really want to make America great again, our airports are a good place to start. These jobs used to be good ones that supported a family, but now they’re closer to what you’d find at McDonald’s.”

U.S. Rep Jan Schakowsky, D-Chicago, joined striking workers on the picket line and Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia got arrested supporting strikers.

In New York City, Councilmembers Brad Lander, Mark Levine and Antonio Reynoso got arrested alongside workers outside a McDonald’s in Lower Manhattan.

 

Some voices from the Fight for $15:

Dayla Mikell, a child care worker in St. Petersburg, Florida: “Risking arrest today isn’t the easy path, but it’s the right one. My job is all about caring for the next generation, but I’m not paid enough to be able to afford my own apartment or car. Families like mine and millions others across the country demand $15, union rights and a fair economy that lifts up all of us, no matter our race, our ethnicity or our gender. And when it’s your future on the line, you do whatever it takes to make sure you are heard far and wide.”

Sepia Coleman, a home care worker from Memphis, Tennessee: “For me, the choice is clear. I am risking arrest because our cause is about more than economic justice—it is about basic survival. Like millions of Americans, I am barely surviving on $8.25/hour. Civil disobedience is a bold and risky next step, but our voices must be heard: we demand $15, a union and justice for all Americans.”

Scott Barish, a teaching assistant and researcher at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina: “I do research and teach classes that bring my university critical funding, but the administration doesn’t respect me as a worker and my pay hasn’t kept up with the rising cost of living. I could barely afford to repair my car this year. And I’m risking arrest today because millions of American workers are struggling to support their families and the need for change is more urgent than ever. We are ramping up our calls for $15 and union rights, healthcare for all workers, and an end to racist policies that divide us further.”

Justin Berisie, an Uber driver in Denver: “Everyone says the gig economy is the future of work, but if we want to make that future a bright one, we need to join together like fast-food workers have in the Fight for $15 and demand an economy that works for all. Across the country, drivers are uniting and speaking out to fight for wages and working conditions that will allow us to support our families and help get America’s economy moving.”

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota: “When I talk to people on the picket lines in Minnesota and around the country, they tell me they’re striking for a better life for their kids and their families. They tell me they’re working harder than ever, and still struggling to make ends meet. In the wealthiest country in the world, nobody working full time should be living in poverty. But the power of protest and working people’s voices can make all the difference. Politics might be the art of the possible, but organizing is the art of making more possible. Workers around the country are fighting to make better working conditions and better wages possible. And I stand with them.”

US court blocks overtime expansion pay rule for 4 million

A federal court this week blocked the start of a rule that would have made an estimated 4 million more American workers eligible for overtime pay heading into the holiday season, dealing a major blow to the Obama administration’s effort to beef up labor laws it said weren’t keeping pace with the times.

The U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas granted the nationwide preliminary injunction, saying the Department of Labor’s rule exceeds the authority the agency was delegated by Congress. Overtime changes set to take effect Dec. 1 are now unlikely be in play before vast power shifts to a Donald Trump administration, which has spoken out against Obama-backed government regulation and generally aligns with the business groups that stridently opposed the overtime rule.

“Businesses and state and local governments across the country can breathe a sigh of relief now that this rule has been halted,” said Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who led the coalition of 21 states and governors fighting the rule and has been a frequent critic of what he characterized as Obama administration overreach. “Today’s preliminary injunction reinforces the importance of the rule of law and constitutional government.”

The regulation sought to shrink the so-called “white collar exemption” that allows employers to skip overtime pay for salaried administrative or professional workers who make more than about $23,660 per year. Critics say it’s wrong that some retail and restaurant chains pay low-level managers as little as $25,000 a year and no overtime — even if they work 60 hours a week.

Under the rule, those workers would have been eligible for overtime pay as long as they made less than about $47,500 a year, and the threshold would readjust every three years to reflect changes in average wages.

The Department of Labor said the changes would restore teeth to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which it called “the crown jewel of worker protections in the United States.” Inflation weakened the act: overtime protections applied to 62 percent of U.S. full-time salaried workers in 1975 but just 7 percent today.

The agency said it’s now considering all its legal options.

“We strongly disagree with the decision by the court, which has the effect of delaying a fair day’s pay for a long day’s work for millions of hardworking Americans,” the labor department said in a statement. “The department’s overtime rule is the result of a comprehensive, inclusive rulemaking process, and we remain confident in the legality of all aspects of the rule.”

Opponents fought hard against the rule, saying it would increase compliance costs for employers who would have to track hours more meticulously and would force companies to cut employees’ base pay to compensate for overtime costs that kick in more frequently.

“This overtime rule is totally disconnected from reality,” said Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. “The one-size-fits-all doubling of the salary threshold demonstrated ignorance regarding the vast differences in the cost-of-living across America.”

The court agreed with plaintiffs that the rule could cause irreparable harm if it wasn’t stopped before it was scheduled to take effect next week.

The Department of Labor could appeal the ruling, which might end up at a Supreme Court that includes some Trump appointees.

But the injunction takes political pressure off the incoming administration at an opportune time, according to labor law professor Ruben Garcia of UNLV’s Boyd School of Law. With no new overtime changes kicking in Dec. 1, Trump can accept the status quo and won’t have to risk angering workers by walking back overtime benefits shortly after employees start receiving them.

His administration could choose to make its own rule changes through the lengthy administrative process. Or Congress could amend labor laws.

The impending rule wasn’t front and center in the presidential campaign, but Trump did tell the news site Circa in August that he would love to see a delay or carve-out for small businesses in the overtime regulation. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan was more vocal against it, saying it would be an “absolute disaster” for the economy and was being rushed through by Obama to boost his political legacy.

 

WHERE THEY STAND: A checklist of Clinton, Trump on issues

By now, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have taken a stab at all sorts of issues and an actual stand on many.

Election Day won’t settle what gets done over the next four years — only who gets to try. Nearly all their ideas require Congress to go along, a tall order.

Even so, they’ve presented voters with distinct choices and sketched out the opening act for an administration that will be engaging lawmakers across the policy landscape.

A checklist of where the Democratic and Republican candidates stand on a selection of issues:

ABORTION: Nominate Supreme Court justices who support abortion rights?

CLINTON: Yes

TRUMP: No

CHILD CARE

CLINTON: 12 weeks of government-paid family and medical leave. Double the child tax credit for families with children 4 and younger, to $2,000 per child.

TRUMP: 6 weeks of leave for new mothers, with the government paying wages equivalent to unemployment benefits. New income tax deduction for child care expenses, other tax benefits and a new rebate or tax credit for low-income families.

CLIMATE CHANGE

CLINTON: $60 billion to switch to cleaner energy. Maintain Obama administration commitment to cut emissions of heat-trapping gasses by up to 30 percent by 2025.

TRUMP: Calls attempts to remedy global warming “a very, very expensive form of tax.” Previously called global warming a hoax.

DEBT

CLINTON: Tax increases on wealthy would help pay for programs, but the extra revenue would not go to bringing down the debt.

TRUMP: Promises massive tax cuts, without proposing curbs in expensive benefit programs; analysts forecast debt would rise more than under Clinton.

EDUCATION

CLINTON: Universal pre-kindergarten within 10 years, to be achieved by giving money to states.

TRUMP: $20 billion in first year to help states expand school choice.

EDUCATION-COLLEGE

CLINTON: Government-paid tuition at in-state, public colleges for students from families making less than $85,000. Income threshold to rise to $125,000 by 2021.

TRUMP: Cap student loan payments at 12.5 percent of a borrower’s income, with loan forgiveness if they make payments for 15 years.

ENERGY

CLINTON: Generate enough renewable energy to power every home in U.S. within 10 years. Measured support for hydraulic fracturing.

TRUMP: “Unleash American energy” by stripping regulations to allow unfettered production of oil, coal, natural gas and other sources. Rescind Clean Power Plan, an Obama administration strategy to fight climate change.

FOREIGN POLICY

CLINTON: Sees international partnerships as essential for using U.S. influence and lessening chances of war.

TRUMP: “America First” policy means alliances and coalitions would not pass muster unless they produced a net benefit to the U.S.

GUNS

CLINTON: Renew ban on assault-type weapons, ensure background checks are completed before a gun sale goes forward, mandate such checks for gun-show sales and repeal law that shields gun manufacturers from liability.

TRUMP: Nominate Supreme Court justices who favor Second Amendment gun rights; says public safety is enhanced by gun ownership.

HEALTH CARE

CLINTON: Build on Obama health care law, with federal spending to help with rising out-of-pocket costs. Repeal a tax on generous coverage that was instituted to help pay for the law’s benefits.

TRUMP: Seek to repeal the law and replace it. Studies say his plan would make up to 20 million uninsured.

IMMIGRATION

CLINTON: Provide a path to citizenship, not just legal status, for many people in the country illegally. Expand programs that protect some groups of immigrants from deportation, including those who arrived as children and parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

TRUMP: Deport people in the country illegally who have committed serious crimes, build a wall along Mexico border at Mexico’s expense. No longer proposing to deport all who are illegally in the U.S., but has not proposed steps to give them legal status.

INFRASTRUCTURE

CLINTON: Spend $250 billion over next five years on public infrastructure and direct an additional $25 billion to a new infrastructure bank to help finance local projects.

TRUMP: Has said he would double Clinton’s infrastructure spending, financing with bonds.

IRAN: Support the deal freezing Iran’s nuclear development program in exchange for relief of international sanctions?

CLINTON: Yes

TRUMP: No

ISLAMIC STATE MILITANTS

CLINTON: Mostly would stay the course from the Obama administration.

TRUMP: Vows relentless bombing; has expressed support for outlawed interrogation techniques.

JOBS

CLINTON: Spend more on roads, tunnels, and other infrastructure. Make government-paid tuition available to most students, enabling more Americans to qualify for higher-paying jobs.

TRUMP: Cut taxes and regulation to spur hiring. Vows manufacturing revival through restrictive practices on imports and improved business climate.

MINIMUM WAGE

CLINTON: At least $12 an hour, from the current $7.50.

TRUMP: $10.

REFUGEES

CLINTON: Expand Syrian refugee program to let in as many as 65,000 over an unspecified time. About 10,000 came in first year of program.

TRUMP: Halt the Syrian refugee program; “extreme” vetting of arrivals from places known for extremism.

SOCIAL SECURITY

CLINTON: Expand benefits for widows and family caregivers, require wealthy people to pay Social Security taxes on more of their income

TRUMP: No cuts to Social Security.

TAXES

CLINTON: Tax increases for the wealthy, such as minimum 30 percent tax on incomes over $1 million and higher taxes on big inheritances. Little if any change for other taxpayers.

TRUMP: Collapse the seven income tax brackets, which peak at 39.6 percent, into three, with a top rate of 33 percent. Slice corporate income tax and eliminate estate tax. Analysts say the wealthy would benefit disproportionately. Tax Policy Center says middle fifth of taxpayers could save an average of $1,010.

TRADE

CLINTON: Opposes Trans-Pacific trade deal, after championing the agreement as secretary of state. Mixed record of support and opposition to free trade.

TRUMP: Impose hefty tariffs on countries judged to be trading unfairly, a step that would suppress their exports and increase costs of goods imported into U.S. Renegotiate or withdraw from North American Free Trade Agreement. Opposes Trans-Pacific trade deal.

WALL STREET REGULATION

CLINTON: More.

TRUMP: Less.

DIVIDED AMERICA: Rosy economic averages bypass many in US

Dozens of FedEx jets queue up for takeoff at the airport here in Memphis, Tennessee. Beale Street, the heart of the music district, hums with tourists. Yet the empty storefronts in Memphis’ moribund downtown and the cash-advance shops strewn near its highways tell another story.

It’s a tale of two cities, all in one place. And it’s a tale of two Americas: the one that national averages indicate has all but recovered from the Great Recession and the one lost in the statistics.

The pattern is evident in cities and towns across America, from Memphis to Colorado Springs, Colorado, from Wichita to Jacksonville: The national numbers aren’t capturing the experience of many typical people in typical communities.

         This story is part of Divided America, AP’s ongoing exploration of the economic, social and political divisions in American society.

A key reason is that pay and wealth are flowing disproportionately to the rich, skewing the data used to measure economic health — and producing an economy on paper that most Americans don’t recognize in their own lives. That disconnect has fueled much of the frustration and anxiety that have propelled the insurgent presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Again and again, primary voters who were most worried about the economy told pollsters that they had cast their ballots for Trump or Sanders, according to Edison Research, which conducted the surveys on behalf of The Associated Press and television networks.

Trump’s candidacy, in particular, has been driven by support in some of the most economically distressed regions in the country, where jobs have been automated, eliminated, or moved to other states and countries. It’s in these places that the outsider message of an unconventional candidate promising a return to the way things used to be resonates most.

Mike Williams earns $22 an hour as a maintenance worker at an Owens-Corning factory, along with health care and retirement benefits. But after a recent raise, his hourly pay has only recently returned to where it was a decade ago, when he worked as a welder.

“I feel like I’m going backward rather than forward,” Williams, 51, said on a recent afternoon after finishing his shift.

In March, Williams voted for Trump in the state’s primary, which the real estate billionaire won easily. One reason he backed Trump, he said, is he feels less secure than in the past, when more manufacturing work was available.

“I remember when you could quit a job today and go to work somewhere else tomorrow,” Williams said.

After seven years of national economic expansion _ to the point where the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates again _ the depth of such insecurity across America has caught many observers off guard.

Said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust and former economist at the Federal Reserve: “The averages certainly don’t tell the whole story.”

Consider incomes for the average U.S. household. They ticked up 0.7 percent from 2008 to 2014, after taking inflation into account. But even that scant increase reflected mainly the rise in income for the richest tenth of households, which pulled up the average. For most others, incomes actually decreased _ as much as 6 percent for the bottom 20 percent, at a time when the economy was mostly recovering.

In Memphis, hiring resumed after the recession and the unemployment rate has declined to match the national figure of 5 percent. Yet those figures, too, obscure as much as they reveal: Many of the new jobs, in Memphis and elsewhere, are in lower-paying industries and are more likely to be part time or temporary.

In Millington, a Memphis suburb where Trump held a rally in February at a military airfield, residents complain that most of the available jobs are in the fast-food chains that dot Highway 51, the main thoroughfare.

The U.S. economy has added a healthy average of roughly 200,000 jobs a month since 2011. Yet most have been either high-paying or low-paying positions. By the end of 2015, the nation still had fewer middle-income jobs than it did before the recession, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

That reflects what economists call the “hollowing out” of the workforce, as traditional mid-level positions such as office administrators, bookkeepers, and factory assembly-line workers are cut in recessions and never fully recover their previous levels of employment.

In Memphis, jobs in the one-third lowest-paying industries, such as retail, restaurants and hotels, are the only category to have fully recovered from the recession, according to Moody’s Analytics. Higher- and middle-paying jobs still trail their pre-recession levels.

In the first half of the recovery, jobs grew 5.6 percent nationwide. Yet in the wealthiest one-fifth of zip codes, hiring jumped 11.2 percent, according to the Economic Innovation Group think tank. For the rest of the country, total jobs increased just 3.3 percent.

“It’s hard to find an average city,” Tannenbaum says.

The same is true for households. These data suggest that the post-World War II trend of a steadily growing middle class, lifted by broader national prosperity, is reversing.

Slightly fewer than half of adults now fall in the middle-class camp, according to the Pew Research Center, a shift that followed four decades of decline. In 1971, 61 percent of households were middle class, according to Pew, which defines middle class as income between two-thirds and double the median household income.

Chris Rice, 29, has worked steadily in the Memphis region for the past 10 years, all at temporary jobs. Rice most recently worked as a forklift driver for Electrolux and for CEVA Logistics, a warehouse firm. The CEVA job ended after the company lost a contract to distribute Microsoft’s X-Box.

Rice said he was hopeful of getting a new temp job at a plant owned by printer manufacturer Brother International.

Still, “I’d love to have a permanent job,” he said. “I’m tired of going from temp agency to temp agency when there’s no work.”

Same work is worth the same wage

April 12 was Equal Pay Day, a day to reflect on the appalling fact that in Wisconsin women earn 79 cents for each dollar men earn when working the same job. Equal Pay Day is the day when the average woman’s earnings for that year plus the prior year equal those of a male counterpart’s earnings for the prior year alone.

The pay gap between women and men has been shown to be a constant issue regardless of the educational level of the workers. Since the initiation of the Fair Pay Act of 1963, there has been a continual decrease in the pay gap. However, the pace is so slow that wage parity will not be reached until 2133.

The pay gap for women of color is even wider. For every dollar earned by a white man, Asian women are paid 65 cents, African-American women are paid 61 cents and Hispanic women are paid a mere 53 cents.

Nearly half of Wisconsin households are headed by women, 31 percent of which exist below the poverty line.

In 2009, Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act took effect, increasing access for women to press charges when their rights were violated. Within one year of the law’s inception, Wisconsin jumped up 12 places from 36th to 24th in the nation’s gender/wage parity rankings. Additionally, hardworking Wisconsin women saw their median earnings rise 3 percent.

Despite these accomplishments, just a few years later every Republican legislator in Wisconsin voted to repeal the Equal Pay Enforcement Act. Every Democratic legislator in the state voted against the repeal, but they were outnumbered and Gov. Scott Walker signed the repeal into law.

Earlier this session, I co-sponsored Senate Bill 145, which would have reinstated Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act. It defies logic that the Republican-led Legislature failed to pass this bill before session ended — without even giving it a public hearing — when the wage gap results in Wisconsin women earning an average of $10,000 less per year than their male peers.

By ignoring this issue, Wisconsin’s economy is deprived of an additional $8 billion annually in consumer spending. My Democratic colleagues and I will continue to fight for what is right and fair, including bringing back the Equal Pay Enforcement Act, and doing more to close the wage gap for good. Wisconsin families and our economy depend on it.

Rep. Jonathan Brostoff is a Milwaukee Democrat who represents the 19th Assembly District.

Protest targets Wendy’s billionaire chairman

Hundreds of protesters, led by Ethel Kennedy, demonstrated near the home of the chairman of the Wendy’s fast food chain in hopes of convincing the company to pay a penny-per-pound fee for its tomatoes to supplement some farmworkers’ wages.

The Palm Beach Post reports the Immokalee Coalition of Farmworker’s march near billionaire Nelson Peltz’s home was peaceful on March 12.

A federal judge had ruled the coalition could use loudspeakers but said marchers must remain on the sidewalk.

The coalition, which represents about 40,000 workers, has used demonstrations and sometimes consumer boycotts to pressure the five largest fast-food companies — Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and Taco Bell — into joining its “fair food program.” All but Wendy’s eventually joined.

Peltz, a 73-year-old investor, has a net worth of $1.35 billion and is the 423rd richest American, according to Forbes Magazine.

One of his companies, Triarc, bought Wendy’s in 2008 for $2.3 billion and he became chairman.

Others who live in the area include Rush Limbaugh, Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump.

 

Census data: Wisconsin incomes fell between 2009 and 2014

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the median household income fell in two-thirds of Wisconsin counties between 2009 and 2014.

Census data released in early December shows incomes fell by at least 10 percent in 10 counties. Vilas County saw the steepest decline at 13.3 percent.

Milwaukee County saw a 10.3 percent drop and Dane County saw a 5.2 percent drop. Incomes rose in Adams and Florence and held relatively steady in 23 counties.

The declines in Wisconsin mirror the United States as a whole. Median income fell by 7.5 percent in the U.S. after adjusting for inflation.

Tim Smeeding, professor of public affairs and economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the drop in income figures in Wisconsin show the effect of the recession on the state’s manufacturing sector. Smeeding, who authors the annual Wisconsin Poverty Report, said the data also show the middle class is struggling.

“The people who got hurt were the people who could walk out of high school and earn a middle-class living,” Smeeding said. “Now, all that’s disappeared.”

Wells Fargo Funds Management strategist Brian Jacobsen said the figures aren’t surprising given the nation’s slow economic recovery.

“It’s been such a weak economic recovery,” said Jacobsen, who also teaches financial planning at Wisconsin Lutheran College. “Up to this point, it seemed like median incomes were at best keeping up with inflation.”

The statewide median income did rise from $51,598 in 2010 to $52,738 in 2014. Incomes in Vilas, Milwaukee and Dane counties rose over that four-year span, too.