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Stephen Goldstein: Wage gap between Florida men and women unchanged for 30 years

In this election year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is masquerading as the friend of the middle class. Who does he think he’s fooling?

For going on 16 years, the Florida Republican Party has fiddled and belittled the middle class. It isn’t an act of God that’s destroying the American Dream; it’s petty, self-serving, greedy acts of Man, justified by a perversion of capitalism that’s the equivalent of economic rape.

Relentlessly, a political, ideological mind-set has been robbing generations of their “pursuit of happiness.” Of course, the nightmare doesn’t have to continue. It is within our control to stop it — if, but only if, enough people face reality.

In the meantime, as long as Floridians remain passive, their future is bleak — and getting bleaker. There will be no long-term economic recovery in this state until and unless the middle class recovers its buying-power. That’s just a fact of our consumer-driven economy.

But since 1999, Florida has been the guinea pig for a failed experiment in top-down, free-market economics on a scale never seen before. The assault on the middle class began in earnest when voters elected Jeb Bush and a Republican-dominated Legislature, a consolidation of power that gave them unprecedented carte blanche to implement elitist economics year after year — without a peep from those getting shafted.

Florida’s sorry state of affairs is well-documented in the briefing paper, “Under Attack: Florida’s Middle Class and the Jobs Crisis,” co-published by Demos and the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy. Here’s a summary of some of its conclusions:

  1. “The future of Florida’s middle class, which has been the backbone of Florida’s economy for more than half a century, is at risk.”
  2. “Florida workers have fared worse than the nation as a whole in terms of wages, benefits and employment levels.”
  3. The substantial gap between the median earnings of working men and women in this state has remained nearly the same for 30 years. “In 2010, women’s median earnings were $9,800 less than, or 76 percent of, men’s.”
  4. Florida has one of the biggest gaps between rich and poor in the nation.
  5. The percent of Florida workers who didn’t have access to health insurance through their employer jumped from 27 percent in 2000 to almost 33 percent in 2010.
  6. Ironically, in the state in which so many relish retiring, “in 2010, only 45 percent of the state’s workers had access to a retirement plan at work, similar to the late 1980s.”
  7. Service-sector jobs, which typically pay less and provide no benefits, grew from 29.6 percent of employment in 1980 to 45.7 percent in 2010.
  8. Manufacturing jobs declined from 14.7 percent of employment in 1980 to 5.6 percent by 2010.

Pick a subject, any subject — child care costs, college graduates’ debts — they prove the briefing paper’s conclusion: “for the first time in generations, more people are falling out of the middle class than joining its ranks.” Read the report here.

The Legislature has passed and Scott has signed budget after budget that favors corporations over people and that continues nearly two decades of Republican assaults on the middle class.

But ask yourself: If the same policies haven’t produced a vibrant, stable economy that benefits the vast majority of Floridians for nearly 16 years, why should they do so now? And if the Legislature and the governor continue to get away with it, who are the real belittlers of average men and women: Republican fiddlers or Floridians in the vanishing middle who let them get away with it? 

Stephen L. Goldstein is the author of “The Dictionary of American Political Bullshit” and “Atlas Drugged: Ayn Rand Be Damned.” He lives in Fort Lauderdale. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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