Sometimes it seems that credit unions are in denial, or simply averse to exploring some of the larger issues facing our memberships. Working people, most particularly young people, are facing a very different set of challenges when it comes to ‘surviving’. The evolution of work in the ‘contract economy’ has implications when we ask marketing related questions, when we ask political questions, and when we ask ethical questions.
The Vanishing Middle Class was recently published by MIT Press, in it Peter Temin paints the picture of a ‘two track’ economy in the USA – the haves and the have-nots. The parallel trends exist in Canada. Inequality by Anthony Atkinson provides both the statistical case and a broad array of proposals to reverse the growing gaps in wealth and incomes – taxes, social supports, regulation, labour laws, and more. Credit unions were originally created to improve the lot of ordinary people. Credit unions have done so directly, through our self-help co-ops, and by aggregating our member’s voices in some political debates – for workplace safety, minimum wages, and more. In many ways, our members’ conundrums are also our credit union’s.
An opinion piece on the Gig Economy in the New York Times by Jia Tolentino presents an eloquent case. She writes: “At the root of this is the American obsession with self-reliance, which makes it more acceptable to applaud an individual for working himself to death than to argue that an individual working himself to death is evidence of a flawed economic system. The contrast between the gig economy’s rhetoric (everyone is always connecting, having fun, and killing it!) and the conditions that allow it to exist (a lack of dependable employment that pays a living wage) makes this kink in our thinking especially clear. Human-interest stories about the beauty of some person standing up to the punishments of late capitalism are regular features in the news, too. I’ve come to detest the local-news set piece about the man who walks ten or eleven or twelve miles to work—a story that’s been filed from Oxford, Alabama; from Detroit, Michigan; from Plano, Texas. The story is always written as a tearjerker, with praise for the person’s uncomplaining attitude; a car is usually donated to the subject in the end. Never mentioned or even implied is the shamefulness of a job that doesn’t permit a worker to afford his own commute.“