Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Big Squeeze:

The Big Squeeze: Tough Times and the American Worker
by Steven Greenhouse
(Knopf, $25.95)

Review by Larry Cox

Steven Greenhouse, the labor and workplace correspondent for The New York Times since 1995, is appalled by what he sees as the squalid treatment, humbling indignities and relentless penny-pinching that confront many American wage earners. In his riveting new book, Greenhouse says that although the United States may think of itself as the "Shining City on a Hill," in reality, the workplace has become a dismal swamp for a growing percentage of workers in America.
Since 1979, hourly earnings for 90 percent of American workers have risen just 1 percent after inflation to $17.71 at the end of 2007, Greenhouse says. And for male workers, the average wage has actually slipped 5 percent. Put another way, if wages had kept pace with productivity, the average full-time worker would be earning $58,000 a year instead of the $36,000 that was the medium income in 2007.
The author cites example after example to underscore his belief that the American workplace is broken and needs immediate attention. He points out that less income triggers more family tensions, more hours spent at work just to make ends meet, more families without health insurance and more demands on government and taxpayers to provide housing assistance and health coverage.
Also contributing to the dire situation is the breakdown that has occurred between workers and their employers. Companies that are generous to their employees such as Costco, Patagonia and the casino-hotels of Las Vegas are the exceptions to the rule, but these progressive corporations could provide examples of how to improve working conditions and correct many of the problems in the American workplace.
This is a sobering examination of a growing American crisis, and a book that is nothing short of brilliant.
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