North America's Strongest Union

The Shrinking Of Our Middle Class Is No Accident

By James P. Hoffa, General President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Published in The Detroit News on October 10, 2012

If you’re lucky enough to have a job, but you feel like you’re working harder than ever, your paycheck is shrinking and your bills are piling up – well, you’re right.

You’re feeling the effects of inequality in America. Last year, the gap between rich and poor Americans was the widest in 40 years.

The earnings gap in the U.S. actually surpassed income inequality in Rwanda, Uganda and Kazakhstan.

Our country is experiencing a crisis of wealth redistribution. It has one cause: corporate America has accumulated staggering amounts of wealth. That, in turn, gave it control over our government.

Americans believe people should have the opportunity to move up and work their way into the middle class. Our country is supposed to be one where people who aren’t born into wealth and privilege can work hard, get an education and create a good life for themselves and their families.

But the American ideal of every generation doing better than the last is on life support. We don’t even need to look to Rwanda, Uganda and Kazakhstan to get a cruel reality check.

For the first time since World War II, average family incomes fell in the last decade.

The shrinking of our middle class is no accident. Corporate-controlled politicians redistributed wealth upward to the already-rich by changing the rules, as columnist Harold Meyerson recently noted in The Washington Post.

Our trade policies have decimated our factories and their good-paying jobs. The growing trade deficit with China – which hit a record $295 billion last year – cost 2.7 million U.S. jobs. We haven’t had a trade surplus since the 1970s.

Workplace protections and workers’ rights were dismantled. Now employers are emboldened to flout the law without fear of penalty.

Deregulation of our financial system unleashed a run on corporate greed. That ignited a global economic crisis, but the bankers who caused it aren’t paying the price. It’s homeowners and American taxpayers who are stuck with the bill.

Changes to our tax code have given huge windfalls to the rich. It is obscene that the top 1 percent of high-income families amassed as much as 93 percent of the nation’s income growth, according to a University of California at Berkeley study of Internal Revenue Service data.

Some of the men and women who represent Michigan’s citizens in Congress could do a better job of making the economy fairer, according to the Institute for Policy Studies.

In the past two years, Michigan representatives and senators scored an overall C+ on 40 votes that affect economic fairness. Those include establishing a “Buffett Rule” tax rate and punishing wage discrimination.

Democratic Sen. Carl Levin got the highest grade, an A. Our state’s only failing grade was earned by Republican Rep. Dan Benishek. That’s one big reason a former Teamster UPS driver, Gary McDowell, is running against him this fall. 

As we head into November’s elections, we must decide what kind of America we want to leave to our children  –  and I don’t think this is it.

To read archived articles from General President Hoffa, click here.