The typical American is even poorer than his or her equivalent in Greece. The median Australian is four times wealthier. The Canadians are twice as wealthy. The U.S. continues to lead the world in billionaires (571 in 2014, with China a distant second at 190). But after decades of financial deregulation and attacks on employee rights, Americans rank 26th in median wealth (defined as assets owned, minus debts owed for the person on the middle rung of the wealth ladder).
All by Design
During the Cold War, our working class was the envy of the world. We argued that our free-enterprise system, not communism, created the best conditions for a rising standard of living for all. Indeed, there was much to boast about. Real wages were increasing year after year. American workers were free to go on strike and did. Most importantly, the children of working people could climb the economic ladder–upward mobility was real.
Today, by almost every measure, none of this is true. Not only do we rank 26th in median wealth, we also are the most anti-employee country in the developed world. Actually, the two go together, because rising inequality results from our pro-Wall Street and anti-worker policies.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranks 43 nations by the degree of employee protection provided by government. The 21 indicators used include such items as laws and regulations governing unfair dismissals, notifications and protections during mass layoffs, the use and abuse of temporary workers, and the provision of severance based on seniority. Countries are ranked on a scale of 0 to 6 with 6 going to those who provide the most legal protections for employees and zero for those with the least. As the chart below reveals, we’re second to last, meaning that we have among the fewest regulations to protect employees–union, non-union, management, full-time and temporary workers alike.