Bob Cropf

Broad restructuring of the economy occurring

In economics on March 9, 2009 at 12:11 PM

Yesterday, Kathleen wrote about bank nationalization. Another clear sign that our economic landscape is undergoing a radical transformation is in this article from the Economy in Crisis blog. The writer says that many of our business icons (e.g., General Electric, General Motors and Citigroup) are plummeting in stock value. Companies, which until recently have been the models of corporate America, are struggling to stay afloat. What this suggests to many people is that a broad and deep restructuring of the US economy is underway. Titans of industry of just a few years ago are falling by the wayside. The question, as yet unanswerable, is who will replace them?

The shift has been occurring for some time. The manufacturing sector has been in decline over the entire post-war era but is in free-fall today. The average factory worker in the auto industry made over $52,000 not including benefits in 2004 according to this article in the Detroit News. By any standard, this is a decent wage for a non-college educated worker. The sector that has shown the largest increases has been the service area, mainly retail. These are largely non-unionized jobs that pay far less than union factory jobs. For example, Wal-Mart associates made a paltry $19,165 in 2008. That’s $2,000 below the federal poverty line (Wake-upWal-mart.com). On NPR, I heard that the Targets and the Wal-marts of the world are still growing–about the only businesses that are. Hence the transformation from relatively high-wage manufacturing jobs with decent benefits including health care to low-paying, few if any benefits continues, which is not the direction we as a society want to be heading in.

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  1. This is really disheartening, for a number of reasons. First, it is a massive (permanent) decrease in many individuals’ standard of living. Second, though I am a big advocate of higher education, it is not appropriate for every one, there is not the capacity to serve everyone, and it is increasingly becoming unaffordable for anyone. So, without policy interventions, we are going to be a lot poorer and a lot dumber… neither or which will help us recover economically.

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