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The Real Job Killers in Our Economy

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We are less than 500 days from the 2020 election, the presidential campaign is in full force, and senate and house elections are ramping up. All of this means that we will again soon be hearing allegations of “job killers” in the news.

As I explain in my new book, No Longer Newsworthy: How the Mainstream Media Abandoned the Working Class, in every presidential campaign since 1996, there has been surge of news stories using the term “job killers” and its variations to undermine Democrats and progressive policies. The strategy was hatched in the early 1990s by Newt Gingrich to dominate the news agenda. Since that time, predominantly Republicans, business interests, and conservative media have pinned the “job killer” label on labor unions, environmental regulations, tax policy, health care reform, National Labor Relations Board rules, minimum-wage increases, and the entire Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The implicit logic is that regulations or anything else that impedes business prerogatives will increase costs, thus killing jobs.

Unfortunately, as I note in the book, over a 28-year period, nearly 92 percent of the mainstream media news stories carrying allegations of “job killers” provided no evidence to support the claims. Thus, conservatives have been getting their unproven assertions carried uncritically in the news. Sound familiar?

What is one to do to combat unverified claims of job killers in the news? Fact-checking is a good response. But changing the conversation to identify the real job killers in our economy is an even better answer. What is really hurting the creation of jobs —and I mean good-paying ones, of at least $15 an hour— is that capital is being sucked up by the super-rich through excess compensation for CEOs, private equity executives, hedge fund managers, and stockpiled profits held offshore.

What is really hurting the creation of jobs —and I mean good-paying ones, of at least $15 an hour— is that capital is being sucked up by the super-rich through excess compensation for CEOs, private equity executives, hedge fund managers, and stockpiled profits held offshore.

Let’s do some simple calculations to illustrate this. Corporate executives now earn close to an average of 300 times the average annual compensation of workers.

(We’ll set aside the outrageous compensation package of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who received $2.3 billion in 2018, which put him at a ratio of 40,668 times the salary of the median Tesla employee of $56,163.)

If we paid those CEOs at the CEO-to-worker pay ratio of 29.9 to 1 —which is the more reasonable ratio from 1978, before executive compensation began to skyrocket— then the benchmark annual CEO compensation now would be $1,330,849, still enough to maintain a membership in the 1 percent. Anything paid beyond that we’ll consider excess executive compensation. This excess amounts to about $17.4 billion annually. Then, we’ll add in the annual taxable value of what the U.S. loses to the trillions in corporate and personal wealth held offshore. That adds up to about $730 billion.

Divide the sum of excess compensation and untaxed sheltered wealth by $31,200 (the annual salary for a $15 an hour job) and this gives us enough to support nearly 24 million jobs. This is enough to fund a decent job for everyone in the U.S. (in June 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 5.975 million unemployed, 4.35 million working part-time for economic reasons, and 2 million not in the labor force who are marginally attached or discouraged workers), and enough left over to raise stagnant pay for millions more.

Divide the sum of excess compensation and untaxed sheltered wealth by $31,200 (the annual salary for a $15 an hour job) and this gives us enough to support nearly 24 million jobs.

It’s time to drop the absurd notion that the richest need tax breaks to create jobs for everyone else. The money is already there, and it’s been accumulating for decades at the cost of a shrinking slice of the economic pie for the majority of Americans.

So, when the inevitable talk of “job killers” surfaces in the political campaigns, let’s respond with the evidence about who is really killing the decent jobs.


Christopher R. Martin is Professor of Digital Journalism at the University of Northern Iowa. He is also author of an award-winning book on how labor unions are covered in the news media, Framed! Labor and the Corporate Media (Cornell University Press).


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