Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Where goes quality of life?

According to an article printed the other day, U.S. wages are not keeping up with productivity--that is, wages for the majority of workers:
The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity — the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation’s living standards — has risen steadily over the same period.

Top executives are still doing quite well:
At the very top of the income spectrum, many workers have continued to receive raises that outpace inflation, and the gains have been large enough to keep average income and consumer spending rising.

Basically, something about the way our country's economy is being managed is creepingly failing to reward the U.S. worker for working. Yet, isn't this what America is all about?

News like this is hardly a surprise. Of course, the fact that inflation is increasing adds insult to injury (not to mention more injury). The joke of all of this is that Republicans want to pass this off as a good economy because there is growth. One of the worst things a politician can be accused of is being out of touch, and it is an accusation Republicans have hurled at Democrats unapologetically over the years. Yet, anyone who would suggest our's is a great economy is woefully out of touch.

Living in an expensive city has really driven home for me how increasingly unaffordable a decent quality of life is. I'm not talking about a yuppy quality of life. I'm talking about simple things like living in working, comfortable living quarters that are an hour or less from one's place of work and avoiding getting into debt--a potentially debilitating state, especially for a younger person--in the process.

Yet, there is no shortage (yet) of luxury condos and apartments and no shortage of expensive restaurants and car dealerships and clothes stores, etc. Someone has to be getting richer--or perhaps, the already-rich are accumulating more wealth. In the meantime, everyone else is getting used to living lives of increasing inconvenience: with traffic, with expensive fuel prices, with being crunched for time (because we are so busy being productive at work!), etc. Improvements to quality of life are being stymied by politicians who do not want to do anything about infrastructure and public transportation, energy policy, pension reform, health care reform, and so on.

It seems this is the perfect moment for politicians--the ones who have an interest in the public good, that is (I don't have high hopes for the rest of them!)--to reevaulate the priorities we have set for ourselves. The era of Reagan selfishness and Bush even-more-selfishness is blindly dragging on by virtue of who is in power, though its values (or lack thereof) do not seem to represent the sentiments of most Americans.

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