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Editor's letter: Struggling worker bees
While we worker bees were becoming more productive than ever, the economy underwent a fundamental transformation.
 
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et the good times roll! Stocks are booming, with the Dow Jones industrial average this week climbing to an all-time high. Corporate profits are soaring, and companies have piled up a record $1.4 trillion in available cash. It is, The New York Times said this week, “a golden age” for corporate profits. So are you feeling flush? Pocketing a fat raise? Didn’t think so. While we worker bees were becoming more productive than ever, the economy underwent a fundamental transformation. A rising tide now lifts only some boats. Globalization and technology have made everything cheaper, more abundant, and instantly available, but they’ve also made you and your labor less valuable. Raises have become…unnecessary. Since 2008, corporate earnings have risen 20 percent a year, while worker salaries have been flat. Even when companies expand, they don’t hire new workers. United Technologies, for example, has raised its annual revenues by $15 billion since 2005, but cut 4,000 workers last year and will cut 3,000 more this year. “Productivity,” the CEO explained. 

Ah, “productivity’’—a fine-sounding word. In practice, it means 11-hour days, working on weekends, skipped vacations. In practice, says a new survey by the American Psychological Association, it means that more than half the U.S. workforce feels underpaid and unappreciated, and a third suffers symptoms of chronic, work-induced stress. But how can a worker bee complain? Millions of unemployed Americans would gladly take their jobs for less pay, and so would millions of telecommuters in India, China, and Brazil. So let us briefly pause to marvel at the results of our productivity, and then get back to work. There is more honey to be made. 

William Falk

 

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