(COMMON DREAMS) Jake Johnson, January 9, 2016 — Matt Yglesias wrote in September of last year that “we are currently living through the best of times.” In a similar vein, Ezra Klein has argued that critics of the American economy, left and right, have a bad habit of exaggerating for political effect.
“Things are not really, really bad,” he opined, chiding Donald Trump for his grim portrayal of a nation in decline.
“Donald Trump is a nasty embodiment of our decaying economic order.”
The Voxxers were not entirely wrong; yes, it is true that the economy President Obama will shortly leave for President-elect Donald Trump is in better shape than the one he inherited from George W. Bush. Growth has been slow but steady; wages, for decades stagnant, appear to be trending upward, if only very slightly; financial institutions are not on the verge of total collapse.
But the relatively rosy numbers highlighted by Klein, Yglesias, and the Obama administration often serve to obscure more fundamental shifts in the way the economy works for most. According to a report published last year by the economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger, the past decade has seen a startling move away from more traditional employment toward what have been termed “alternative work arrangements.”
“The percentage of workers engaged in alternative work arrangements — defined as temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract workers, and independent contractors or freelancers — rose from 10.1 percent in February 2005 to 15.8 percent in late 2015,” the report concludes.
This is a striking finding for several reasons. Most jarring, as Martin Hart-Landsberg, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Lewis and Clark College, observes, is the fact that “Employment in so-called traditional jobs is actually shrinking. The only types of jobs that have been growing in net terms are ones in which workers have little or no security and minimal social benefits.”
In short, even as monthly job reports reveal steady hiring, the types of employment available are precarious, insecure, and low-paying.