Published Date"It's a sign," exclaims a February Associated Press story — a sign that our economy is "healing." "It signals that things are getting back to normal," added a delighted market analyst. And a March 4 New York Times report heralded it as "a golden age."
The "it" they're hailing is the Dow, that mystical force believed by faithful Dowists to be "The Way" — the provider of good fortune, often bestowing its magical beneficence by magical means. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is the holy measure of corporate stock prices, and it is now smiling warmly on its acolytes.
Last week, the Dow Jones Average reached a new high, having regained every dime of the $11 trillion that Wall Street investors had lost in the 2007 crash. "Hallelujah," shout the devout. "All praise the Dow!"
Unless, of course, your wealth is dependent not on stock prices, but on wages. In that case, you're among the majority of Americans who're more concerned about the Doug Jones Average. Forget the buzz about "a golden age" — Doug, Darcy, Diego, Deewanna and all the other Joneses can't even afford to enter the Golden Arches, for they're still mired in the Great Job Depression that Wall Street's crash caused.
Washington rushed to the rescue of the financial elites, but the Joneses are still getting double-stiffed by Washington policymakers and by the very elites Washington continues to coddle. The GOP House refuses to talk about a minimal tax hike on the superrich, but members had no qualms about jacking up the payroll taxes on millions of workaday people.
Meanwhile, even as corporate profits have rocketed up by 20 percent a year since the end of 2008, the chieftains are still refusing to increase hiring and are holding down wages. As a result, the share of America's total income that goes to workers has now tumbled to the lowest level in nearly half a century.
United Technologies (one of the 30 corporations whose financial performances are measured to calculate the Dow Jones Averages) is a force in that knockdown. This industrial giant, fed a regular diet of fat government contracts, has enjoyed annual revenue increases of some $2 billion a year since 2005, yet rather than increasing its workforce, CEO Louis Chenevert is shedding workers.
Last month, only four days after announcing that United Tech's stock price had leaped to a record high, the corporation revealed that it will fire 3,000 employees this year, on top of the 4,000 dumped in 2012.
That is the harsh math behind such recent smiley-face headlines as this one: "Household wealth back at pre-recession levels." Oh, joy — we're all rich again!
Or not. The article attributes the gain in household wealth to "surging stock prices." But before you start ripping up your floorboards in hopes of finding your share of this bounty, read deeper into the article to learn that the Dow doesn't do much at all for the Doug. In fact, the wealthiest 10 percent of households own 80 percent of all corporate stocks.
Harsher yet is the way the corporate powers are treating those financially stretched Americans who're looking not for a bundle of wealth, but just a decent job. Today's massive backlog of unemployed and underemployed workers allows corporations to bring in hoards of top-quality applicants and literally toy with them. It's now common for a job-seeker to return five, seven, nine or more times to the same company hiring hall for senseless rounds of interviews — only to have the company whimsically decide not to fill the opening at all.
From Google to Starbucks, major corporations have roughly doubled the duration of their interview process in the last two years. The New York Times noted that one fellow seeking a video-editing job was run through a gauntlet of nine interviews and made to undergo a ridiculous battery of psychological and personality exams, along with a math quiz and a spelling test — after which the company simply closed the opening.
Insulting, yes, but expensive, too. The out-of-work interviewee has to pay for producing work samples and cover the cost of everything from dry cleaning to parking fees. The job-dangling corporation, on the other hand, can simply force existing employees to shoulder a heavier load, while it trifles with applicants looking for what is laughingly referred to in CorporateSpeak as "the purple squirrel" — an applicant too qualified to exist.
Even a dog knows the difference between being tripped over ... and kicked. The way workaday Americans are being kicked around today is revolting — both in the sense of being abhorrent and inevitably inducing a revolt.
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)