If the U.S. does not take steps to address a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots, the economy could implode, Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO union federation, warned on Friday.
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“Our economy is on a trajectory towards implosion,” Trumka told FOX Business’ Maria Bartiromo from Davos, Switzerland. “There are several things that can either increase that trajectory or decelerate it.”
Although a recent White House report found that pay for lower-income workers is growing at a faster pace than high-income workers, income inequality in the U.S. expanded significantly from 2017 to 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Gini index, which measures income inequality, is on a scale of 0 to 1, with a measure of 0 indicating perfect equality, where every household controls the same amount of wealth, while a score of 1 indicates perfect inequality, meaning one household controls all of the income and the rest have none. It’s been rising steadily over the past few decades.
Trumka, a third-generation coal miner, pointed to several facets that could either improve equality or worsen it, such as climate change and technology.
He also applauded the efforts by Ivanka Trump, senior adviser to President Trump, and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty to launch a workforce development campaign in hopes of filling vacant jobs. Under the apprenticeship program, Americans without a college degree could get trained in a specific skill.
“There are plenty of occupations that will require advanced degrees,” Trump said. “But cybersecurity, IT, a lot of these different programs require a credential that is achievable without racking up enormous amounts of student debt.”
Although trade schools and apprenticeships have been stigmatized in the past, Trumka said they can serve as a real path for Americans who want a steady income.
“Sometimes, we’ve said, if you don’t have a college degree, it’s like you’re a failure. That’s just not true,” Trumka said. “Trade schools are all good schools that can give you the skills you need to make a good living, contribute to society and actually increase productivity for all of society. Our apprenticeship programs are the best in the world.”
Trumka, who leads the largest federation of U.S. unions, also discussed sagging membership.
In 2018, union membership in the American workforce declined to 10.3 percent from 10.5 percent, according to data released Wednesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By comparison, about 20.1 percent of workers, or 17.7 million, held a union membership in 1983.
He blamed the loss on “the attacks on us and the change in laws,” but pointed to a recent MIT study that found a surge in union popularity among American workers.
“Our popularity is at a 50-year high,” he said. “They can’t get it done relying on anybody but their sisters and brothers who work beside them.”