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Wall Street toasts good times, while workers are...
Left out in the cold

January 9, 2004 | Page 1

THE WALL Street hot-shots and corporate honchos partied up a storm over the holidays. Avenue magazine--which "serves Manhattan's elite" by "celebrating gracious living," according to its trademarked slogan--joined Donald Trump to throw a high-powered bash "for children" in New York City, featuring live wooden soldiers lock-stepping in and out of the rooms. Refreshments for the adults included caviar, salmon and champagne.

At the 21 Club nearby, a high-powered law firm toasted the holidays with extra-large bottles of 1982 Chateau Latour, at $3,200 a pop. "No, the Millennium Isn't Back, But Gilt-Edged Parties Are," reported a New York Times headline.

America's rich and powerful had plenty to celebrate in 2003--a rebounding stock market, rosy predictions of renewed economic growth, another massive tax cut giveaway from their pal George W. Bush, a war on Iraq that further expanded American power. "There's nothing that's not better," gushed an Avenue magazine flunky.

They forgot to tell Russell Luepnitz. Last October, Russell lost his job as a tool-and-die maker at a company in Manitowoc, Wis., an industrial town north of Milwaukee along the Lake Michigan coast. He was a month shy of his 60th birthday.

His wife Susan has gone back to work so they can make ends meet--even though she has Parkinson's disease. Russell fears for their future. "If I don't get anything in six months, my unemployment runs out," he told the Los Angeles Times. "We'll have to sell our house and get an apartment. As my wife's health keeps backing off, she won't be able to keep working. We'll have to keep cutting back and cutting back, moving down the food chain so we can survive."

Russell Luepnitz is another one of the millions upon millions of U.S. workers who keep hearing from the media that the economic recovery is "steaming ahead"--but don't see anything other than tough times for themselves. Better-paid manufacturing workers like Russell have suffered a net loss of employment every month that George Bush has been in office--accounting for the lion's share of the nearly 3 million jobs that have disappeared in those three years.

The official unemployment rate has remained relatively low compared to past recessions, never rising much above 6 percent. But that's because the government doesn't count all sorts of people who can't find work--those who have given up looking, people who take part-time positions because they can't find full-time ones, temp workers who don't know where or if they'll have a job next week. Add these groups in, the LA Times reported, and the genuine jobless rate would be closer to 10 percent.

Workers who managed to keep their job last year could celebrate that--but not much else. Despite the media talk about the scorching pace of economic growth in the second half of last year, real hourly wages didn't grow at all, according to calculations by the Economic Policy Institute--and may have even dropped by a fraction.

But good times are back for the super-rich. From July to September, corporate profits shot up at an annual rate of 40 percent. "[F]or most Americans," wrote New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, "current economic growth is a form of reality TV, something interesting that is, however, happening to other people."

For people like Russell Luepnitz, however, the reality is a lot more serious than TV. After a lifetime of work, thrown out on the street and scrambling to get by "further down the food chain."

Enough is enough! It's time to stand up against the greed of the super-rich and demand what we deserve--a better life for working people.

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