The past few years have proved to be tough economic times for many Pennsylvanians; a period referred to as “the lost decade,” according to the Keystone Research Center.
Released on Aug. 29, the Keystone Research Center’s annual State of Working Pennsylvania report showed that Pennsylvanians have seen slow, if any, economic growth in wages since 2000.
“The lost decade” is referred to as a time period with decreasing wages and a decline in finding job opportunities for people in Pennsylvania.
Economist and executive director of the Keystone Research Center Stephen Herzenberg said investing in things like infrastructure would create more jobs for the middle class.
He says people tend to think that the rich are always getting richer.
“They think that there isn’t anything we can do about the gap between the one percent and the 99 percent,” Herzenberg said. “But, the fact is from the 1930s to the 1970s in this country, incomes have grown at the top, middle and bottom.”
According to the report, there has been a decline in wages from $82,818 in 2000, to $76,682 in 2010.
Herzenberg said economic growth depends on policies and a “rising tide” in the economy.
“If we demand and elect public policy makers that will change the policy, then we can get back to a rising tide,” he said.
As a result of the cuts in the federal and state government, jobs in education and emergency response were suffering, he said.
Charles Dumas , the Democratic candidate running for representative of the fifth district and a Penn State professor, said many of the counties in Pennsylvania have depended on coal, oil and industrial development in the past.
“The perception in Pennsylvania of how bad things are economically is somewhat misleading,” Dumas said.
He said the unemployment rate in Pennsylvania is below that of the national average. Dumas said the main problem is the kinds of jobs available for people.
Dumas said that there are not many jobs available for people with college degrees in their field, due to many jobs being exported overseas.
“There are a lot of young people that come to PSU from central Pennsylvania,” he said. “They would like to return home for work, which is of course impossible because the jobs don’t exist.”
He says many people often have to relocate to find meaningful work in their discipline.
Russell Chuderewicz, senior lecturer in economics, said Pennsylvania is suffering from the same thing the national economy is suffering from. He said when thinking of stimulus packages, it needs to be considered where the funds are coming from.
According to the report, an average Pennsylvania worker earned $16.43 an hour in 2001 –– only 63 cents more than 1979.
Chuderewicz says the issue is more about the quality of income.
“You can’t hide the fact that the middle class is disappearing,” he said.
Herzenberg says there are a variety of ways of turning low-end jobs into middle class jobs.
“There are two ways,” he said. “If jobs are low wage; make them higher wage and make them less dead end.”
Creating better training programs, he said, was part of the solution.
Herzenberg says unionizing jobs, such as health care employees from nurse’s aids to technicians, would help the economy.
Dumas says there is a vision in America, in which resources are given to the top one to two percent in hopes they create jobs.
He says getting everyone to pay their fair amount of taxes, hiring back some teachers and making an industry with good infrastructure would help.
“The idea of using community to help community is the way America is going to get rebuilt,” Dumas said.