The Wages of Downsizing

Contrary to popular myths, downsizing does not necessarily make companies more profitable, more productive, or even smaller. As former downsizer Alan Downs reports, however, it does drive down wages.

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


I made my way to the front of the auditorium where 100 or so current and prospective members of Congress were filling the seats. The Democratic Caucus had invited me, along with other political, academic, and business experts, to participate in a panel discussion on what promises to be the key question of the presidential election: Has the average American worker benefited from the economic gains of the past several years?

Joseph Stiglitz, chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, spoke first. Freshly armed with an election-year report that suggests the economic anxiety workers feel is largely a figment of their imagination, Stiglitz implied the media and ambitious politicians have fooled American workers into thinking their jobs are in jeopardy.

As Stiglitz beamed over the creation of 8.5 million new jobs since 1993, I shuffled through my notes, which included these facts: More Americans have been laid off since 1993 than in any previous three-year period since the government started counting in 1979, and workers’ salaries have remained stagnant for the past 20 years. I was dumbfounded that an administration elected with the help of organized labor would try to put a positive spin on the plight of working Americans.

Is a corporate layoff lurking in your future? Ask yourself these 10 questions:

1. When you get up the guts to say “promote me or lose me,” does your boss show concern, or a sudden fondness for counting ceiling dots?

2. Does your paycheck remind you of that old Led Zeppelin album The Song Remains the Same?

3. Has your boss asked, “What kind of future do you see for yourself here?”

4. Do you feel your company’s product is an eight-track cassette in a CD world?

5. Are you merging with another company whose CEO is nicknamed “The Guillotine”?

6. Did you get a memo saying your performance review has been “canceled until further notice”?

7. Does your Christmas bonus give you visions of Bob Cratchit?

8. Are you the highest-paid person in a department where business isn’t exactly booming?

9. Have your job responsibilities been trimmed back to the point where you’ve got time to rearrange your desk accessories — daily?

10. Do executives repeatedly cancel meetings you’ve scheduled because of “time constraints”? Do you then see them outside, playing lawn volleyball instead?

If you answered yes to several of these questions, your job may be headed for the chopping block.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.