"A growing sense of powerlessness in our lives is convincing most people the system is working only for those at the top" (Robert Reich)
"As I travel around America, I’m struck by how utterly powerless most people feel."
-- Robert Reich, in a new blogpost, "Why
So Many Americans Feel So Powerless"
So Many Americans Feel So Powerless"
The former labor secretary begins with three cases he diagnoses as examples of people feeling powerless:
A security guard recently told me he didn’t know how much he’d be earning from week to week because his firm kept changing his schedule and his pay. “They just don’t care,” he said.Why does this make people feel powerless? Because we are.
A traveler I met in the Dallas Fort-Worth Airport last week said she’d been there eight hours but the airline responsible for her trip wouldn’t help her find another flight leaving that evening. “They don’t give a hoot,” she said.
Someone I met in North Carolina a few weeks ago told me he had stopped voting because elected officials don’t respond to what average people like him think or want. “They don’t listen,” he said.
The companies we work for, the businesses we buy from, and the political system we participate in all seem to have grown less accountable. I hear it over and over: They don’t care; our voices don’t count.In good part, he says, because "we have fewer choices than we used to have. In almost every area of our lives, it's now take it or leave it."
In the workplace, where once upon a time "a third of private-sector workers belonged to labor unions," which gave them bargaining power that in fact extended to many non-union workers:
Companies are treating workers as disposable cogs because most working people have no choice. They need work and must take what they can get.As consumers too we're mostly helpless, with the "muting" of the consumer movement that arose in the '60s "demand[ing] safe products, low prices, and antitrust actions against monopolies and business collusion." He cites the consolidation of the airline industry into just a handful of major carriers, little competition among Internet providers and digital platforms, giant health insurers and hospital chains.
Although jobs are coming back from the depths of the Great Recession, the portion of the labor force actually working remains lower than it’s been in over thirty years – before vast numbers of middle-class wives and mothers entered paid work.
Which is why corporations can get away with firing workers without warning, replacing full-time jobs with part-time and contract work, and cutting wages. Most working people have no alternative.
All this means less consumer choice, which translates into less power. Our complaints go nowhere. Often we can’t even find a real person to complain to. Automated telephone menus go on interminably.And finally, he says, "as voters we feel no one is listening because politicians, too, face less and less competition." In federal, state, and local elections there are fewer competitive "battlegrounds," and in those battlegrounds "so much big money is flowing in that average voters feel disenfranchised." Gone are the days, he says, when "political parties had strong local and state roots that gave politically-active citizens a voice in party platforms and nominees." Our two big parties "have morphed into giant national fund-raising machines."
No, he doesn't pull a rabbit out of a hat at the end. No convenient solution. I sure don't have one. But as always, to have any shot at finding solutions, you have to figure out what the problem is.
Our economy and society depend on most people feeling the system is working for them. But a growing sense of powerlessness in all aspects of our lives – as workers, consumers, and voters – is convincing most people the system is working only for those at the top.