Since the first Occupy protests a year ago, the debate over inequality has largely focused on ways to rectify the capture of money and political power by the 1 percent. It's an urgently needed discussion, given the spectacle of bank bailouts, sky-rocketing CEO pay and blatant malfeasance by Wall Street and Congress. But much less attention has been given to the flip side of inequality, namely the collapse of the labor market for the 99 percent.
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The root of the problem is America's good jobs deficit, which has been building for three decades and has only worsened as low-wage jobs like retail, food preparation and home health care dominate the recovery. Compounding the trend is the stalling of upward mobility, the persistence of race and gender inequality, and the emergence of wage theft as routine business practice. Some of this has been driven by globalization, but a lot has taken place in domestic industries where employers are increasingly focused on cutting labor costs, Gaining flexibility with contingent and subcontracted work, and maximizing shareholder value - all facilitated by the withdrawal of government's hand in the labor market.
To fight inequality, that hand must become visible again. The days when business hewed to a social contract are long gone, and unions, struggling just to maintain their share of the work force, cannot deliver strong labor standards on their own. Community and immigrant worker organizing has surged in recent years, but not yet with enough heft to significantly drive job quality.