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Overworked? Underpaid? Join the Club: The Middle Class

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Overworked? Underpaid? Join the Club: The Middle Class

This week, a money-themed CBS Sunday Morning featured Cary, North Carolina's SAS, a business software company--featuring subsidized on-site daycare, gyms, and health care--as an example of a corporate aberration in the these tough economic times. As CBS reporter Jim Axelrod pointed out in his cover story "The Great American Paycheck Squeeze," the reality is, “for more and more Americans in these recessionary times, SAS might as well be Disney World. The fact is, most workers feel overworked, under-appreciated and--most of all--under-paid.”

What's your work experience in this decade of decline? Overworked? Underpaid? Or just happy to be here? Regardless, it’s a tough time to be almost anyone in the work force.

"We're living through one of the worst times for wage growth ever," Larry Mishel, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit Washington think tank told CBS. "From 2002 to 2007, the hourly compensation of a typical college graduate or a typical high school graduate went up zero - didn't grow at all."

Mishel says for most American workers, wages haven’t been keeping up with productivity for some 40 years.

"If you're in manufacturing, there's pressure from overseas," he said. "We've weakened the ability to have and keep a union, we've introduced privatization, we have a much lower minimum wage, in many industries, we've deregulated them."

And then enter this decade’s Great Recession, marked by rising foreclosure rates, escalating health care costs, recent credit card company schemes and unprecedented unemployment.
"We've seen the steepest and longest rise in unemployment since the Great Depression," Mishel told CBS’s Axelrod. "This has a tremendous downward pressure on wages. Employers have all the leverage; they don't have to give you more money to get you accept a job.

"In a Great Recession, you don't have songs that say, 'Take this job and shove it!'" Mishel said.

Specifically, the economist points to the fact that from the 1940s until around 1970, “as workers became more productive, their salaries grew accordingly. But around 1970, things changed, and for the next four decades, as productivity skyrocketed 70%, hourly wages hardly budged, rising a mere four percent.”

And what happened to all of those profits?  Mishel points to the upper echelon of business leadership. "Between 1989 and 2007, before the Great Recession, of all the income growth that was generated, the bottom 90 percent [of Americans] got only 15 percent of it. The upper one percent got 55 percent. And the upper tenth of the upper one percent, the one out of 1,000 households, got about a third of all the income growth."

In other words, a third of all income growth went to one tenth of one percent of people, leaving the middle class with little to show for all of the country’s purported economic growth.

"We know that CEOs in large companies make 270 times that of a typical worker," Mishel said. "It used to be around 20 times, 30 times, back in the '60s and '70s. Now the fact is, you don't have to pay someone that much to get out of bed and go to work and be productive."

The economist also challenged anyone who says we’re actually better off now than 40 years ago. “It's really a low threshold to say families are a little better off than 30 years ago, when the pie grew by 70%," Mishel said. "They should be far better off."

Which brings us back to the story of SAS, and what co-founder and CEO Jim Goodnight is trying to do: redefine the concept of "fair wage."

"You know, I always use the phrase, '95 percent of my assets drive out the front gate every night, and it's my job to bring 'em back,'" Goodnight said to CBS.

And for anyone trying to grow a business in this economy, Goodnight's view is that these fringe benefits are just “the smart thing to do.”

"The point of the benefits is to keep people," said Goodnight. "And if you keep people and make your people happy, they're going to make your customers happy. And if your customers are happy, they're going to make the company happy. So, it's sort of a triangle there that you have to always keep in mind."

So, if you're reading this and wishing you too could work for SAS, take heart. Even in these tough economic times, the company is hiring. But apply now . . . not surprisingly last year SAS received nearly 40,000 resumes.

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