The Electrical Worker online
February 2013

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Tackling Myths

In a new study, economists at the Economic Policy Institute refute the assumption that changes in jobs and technology — the shift from a manufacturing to a service-based economy — are the primary causes of our nation's persistent economic inequality. The content, technology and educational requirements of jobs, they say, have been changing for more than a half century. But widening gaps in wages came much later. Why?

Because, they found, influential political leaders made deliberate policy choices that directly contributed to workers taking home less in their paychecks. These choices include holding down the minimum wage, negotiating "free" trade agreements and deregulating major industries. Undermining the rights of workers to organize and maintain unions put more downward pressure on wages, as did monetary and fiscal policies that led to higher unemployment.

Every day, influential news media personalities and even many of our co-workers, friends and relatives say there's nothing we can do about the rich-get-richer, middle-get-poorer squeeze that plagues the U.S. and Canada. But if deliberate policy choices were responsible for this situation to begin with, why can't we, the majority, win policy changes that will reverse the trend?

We can. And we must. But to build the kind of movement that can reverse bad policies, we need to challenge an even bigger myth — one that infects working folks like a stubborn flu. The myth is that government spending is our biggest problem.

That's certainly not what Republicans or Democrats thought back in the 1950s when they approved large-scale federal spending on our interstate highway system. And that's not what leaders of either party thought back when they invested in the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide electrical power to millions of Americans. The TVA still employs hundreds of IBEW members.

The output of the U.S. economy is running $998 billion (6 percent) below its potential. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that $2.2 trillion of investments is needed over five years to raise our infrastructure from "poor" to "good." We can boost demand and put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work with federal government investments in our nation's transportation, water and energy systems.

Moody's Analytics estimates that $1 of infrastructure spending generates $1.44 in demand. Investing in infrastructure will also create and support small businesses and revive the depleted tax bases of states and communities.

Overcoming income inequality goes hand in hand with putting unemployed North Americans back to work. But neither will happen without challenging and defeating the myths that hold us back.


Also: Chilia: Deals or No Compromises? Read Chilia's Column

Edwin D. Hill

Edwin D. Hill
International President