The State of the Working Class

Thom Hartmann

My uncle, King Saunders Jr., was a newspaperman. He reported for several papers during his career, and from 1938 to the 1950s, he was the editor of the Motorwheel News, a weekly newspaper for one of the big auto plants in Lansing, Mich.

Although the newspaper was paid for and published by the Motorwheel Company, it covered mostly labor issues. In the May 15, 1938 edition of the Motorwheel News, Uncle King published an illustration that showed how wages, the typical income of working people, as opposed to rent and dividends, the typical income of rich people, had been steadily rising since the Civil War. “In 1850, approximately 38 percent of the national income was dispersed or paid out in wages and salaries. By 1909 that figure had increased to 54 percent, and today” – and this was written in May of 1938 – “66.5 percent of the national income was disbursed as wages and salaries, the highest percentage on record.”

Today, that percentage is below 49 percent. We’re back to where we were before the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt, all while corporate profits are soaring.

As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities noted, before the great Bush crash even, “Commerce Department data … show that the share of national income going to wages and salaries in 2006 was at its lowest level on record, with data going back to 1929. The share of national income captured by corporate profits, in contrast, was at its highest level on record.”

The American working class is in crisis, and that’s why on “The Labor Picture,” we go beyond the business pages of the mainstream media and take a deeper look at what’s really going on in the American economy.

This special edition of “The Big Picture” looks at the state of labor in America, with conversations with Teamster’s President James Hoffa, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel and many other labor experts and journalists. In the “Daily Take,” I explain how we can bring democracy back to the workplace.

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