America bills itself as a land of opportunity, and the slogan still may be true in so many ways in 2012. But many see a persistent and growing inequality in both the labor force and standard of living. The gap between the "two Americas" has been an issue on the left for years, and was a catalyst for the Occupy Wall Street movement, which this past week marked its one-year anniversary.
It remains an open debate whether the government has a role in such matters. But as the participants in the nebulous class movement continue to try and shine a light on the economic gulf in America between the "99 percent" and the privileged 1 percent, AOL Jobs collected top stories from the week that illustrate the space dividing Americans.
The Great Divide
The progressive blog, ThinkProgress, featured 10 charts this week that depict an America in which the haves are continuing to distance themselves from the have-nots. Last year alone saw income drop for all Americans, except for the top 20 percent of wage-earners. And as many workers can attest, the drop in salaries is accompanied by an uptick of hours on the job. The average hourly wage has been stagnant for U.S. workers since 1972, but productivity, measured by the Economic Policy Institute in hours on the job, has doubled in that time.
Is anyone doing well? Yes. CEO pay has increased 127 times faster than that of the average worker over the past 30 years. As for opportunities for jobs? Those are increasing almost exclusively in low-wage fields, with hiring in retail, accommodations and food services outpacing total U.S. employment growth since the Great Recession began.
America's Self-Appointed 'Lower Class'
There's nothing like a low self-image to keep a people down. A new report from the Pew Research Center found that the percentage of Americans who consider themselves "lower-middle" or "lower class," has risen from 25 percent in 2008 to 32 percent this past year. And what's worse is that the proportion of Americans who classify themselves as such stands at nearly 40 percent for those between the ages of 18 and 30.
The so-called economic recovery has probably done little to heal America's new identity problem, given that it's barely felt in daily life: A separate Pew study from last month found that average worker income has dropped 4.1 percent since the recovery began. And the figure during the actual recession? A not-too-different rate of 4.2 percent. How will this new self-image play out in American life? It's all probably still taking shape, but it undoubtedly represents a cultural shift. As an article from CNBC puts it, Americans "historically have resisted thinking of themselves of anything but solidly middle class."
The big banks know that a years-long crisis in their sector, made all the more plain this past year with a new trading scandal at JPMorgan Chase, means that astronomical bonuses for their top executives can create public relations problems. And according to a new report in The Wall Street Journal, the banks are planning on reducing 2012's end-of-year bounties, but remain intent on doing so "without drastically reducing the executives' take-home pay."
The drive to pay-big-by-any-means comes even as revenue is down across the finance industry for the first half of the year, including at Chase and Citibank. But those at the bottom are feeling it. Layoffs across the finance sector stood at roughly 17,500 halfway through 2012, according to FINS.com.
Women: Still Stuck At 77 Percent
Seventy-seven is the saddest number for American women. As those familiar with the gender wage gap in America know, women make 77 percent of what men do for the exact same work. The figure has been in that neighborhood for decades, and according to new research by the U.S. Census Bureau, no progress was made last year in erasing this disparity: The average income for women working full-time jobs was $37,118 in 2011, as compared to $48,202 for men. And "the problem is worse for African-American women and Latinas," according to a statement by Linda D. Hallman, the executive director of the American Association of University Women, in the International Business Times.
What's being done to ensure that gender doesn't determine pay? Republicans have blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would require greater transparency about salaries. And since President Barack Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, which allows women to claim back pay if they find out that they were paid less than their male counterparts, the figure hasn't moved from 77 percent. In fact, it's been stuck there since 2005.
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