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Monday, September 20, 2004

More temporary jobs, fewer union jobs: income gap widens

The Washington Post today published the first in a series of articles on the fate of the middle class. Today's article focuses on administrative and blue-collar workers, particularly those without advanced degrees, whose prospects have grown more bleak even as other sectors (doctors, lawyers) have shot ahead.

Griff Witte writes:
All kinds of jobs that pay in the middle range -- Clark's $17 an hour, or about $35,000 a year, was smack in the center -- are vanishing, including computer-code crunchers, produce managers, call-center operators, travel agents and office clerks.

The jobs have had one thing in common: For people with a high school diploma and perhaps a bit of college, they can be a ticket to a modest home, health insurance, decent retirement and maybe some savings for the kids' tuition. Such jobs were a big reason America's middle class flourished in the second half of the 20th century.

Now what those jobs share is vulnerability. The people who fill them have become replaceable by machines, workers overseas or temporary employees at home who lack benefits. And when they are replaced, many don't know where to turn.

Perhaps most telling, "there are now about as many temporary, on-call or contract workers in the United States as there are members of labor unions."

The income gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to grow wider, Witte reports. "The ranks of the uninsured, the bankrupt and the long-term unemployed have all crept up the income scale, proving those problems aren't limited to the poor. Meanwhile, income inequality has grown. In 2001, the top 20 percent of households for the first time raked in more than half of all income, while the share earned by those in the middle was the lowest in nearly 50 years. "

To read stories about individual workers, go to the full article.


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