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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/27/15

Why So Many Americans Feel So Powerless

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Reprinted from Robert Reich Blog


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A security guard recently told me he didn't know how much he'd be earning from week to week because his firm kept changing his schedule and his pay. "They just don't care," he said.

A traveler I met in the Dallas Fort-Worth Airport last week said she'd been there eight hours but the airline responsible for her trip wouldn't help her find another flight leaving that evening. "They don't give a hoot," she said.

Someone I met in North Carolina a few weeks ago told me he had stopped voting because elected officials don't respond to what average people like him think or want. "They don't listen," he said.

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What connects these dots? As I travel around America, I'm struck by how utterly powerless most people feel.

The companies we work for, the businesses we buy from, and the political system we participate in all seem to have grown less accountable. I hear it over and over: They don't care; our voices don't count.

A large part of the reason is we have fewer choices than we used to have. In almost every area of our lives, it's now take it or leave it.

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Companies are treating workers as disposable cogs because most working people have no choice. They need work and must take what they can get.

Although jobs are coming back from the depths of the Great Recession, the portion of the labor force actually working remains lower than it's been in over 30 years -- before vast numbers of middle-class wives and mothers entered paid work.

Which is why corporations can get away with firing workers without warning, replacing full-time jobs with part-time and contract work, and cutting wages. Most working people have no alternative.

Consumers, meanwhile, are feeling mistreated and taken for granted because they, too, have less choice.

U.S. airlines, for example, have consolidated into a handful of giant carriers that divide up routes and collude on fares. In 2005 the U.S. had nine major airlines. Now we have just four.

It's much the same across the economy. Eighty percent of Americans are served by just one Internet Service Provider -- usually Comcast, AT&T, or Time-Warner.

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The biggest banks have become far bigger. In 1990, the five biggest held just 10 percent of all banking assets. Now they hold almost 45 percent.

Giant health insurers are larger; the giant hospital chains, far bigger; the most powerful digital platforms (Amazon, Facebook, Google), gigantic.

All this means less consumer choice, which translates into less power.

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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