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WASHINGTON — Amid growing fears of economic recession or worse, America’s workforce is struggling to cope, and neither the recently-passed stimulus package nor the Federal Reserve’s rate cuts will fix what ails the nation’s shaky situation, said former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. “None of these fixes will help much because they do not deal with the underlying anxieties now gripping American voters. The problem lies deeper than the current slowdown and transcends the business cycle,” Reich wrote recently in The Financial Times. Now a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Supercapitalism, Reich contends that beyond the big picture of Wall Street’s ebbing stocks and its banks’ growing losses on subprime mortgage bonds a greater malaise has finally hit America’s middle classes–with nothing less than an alarming thud.

Middle-class families have “exhausted the coping mechanisms they have used for more than three decades to get by on median wages that are barely higher than they were in 1970, adjusted for inflation,” he maintained. Workers earn less now than they did 30 years ago, adjusted for inflation, yet have maintained a lifestyle that belies their income. The reckoning has been postponed thanks to women returning to the workforce (now 70% of women with children now work full-time) and by working longer hours, longer weeks and two-job household income.Finally, the last available coping mechanism was tapped: borrowing. In the real estate boom time, Americans cashed in on home equity, using their homes like piggy banks, Reich said. With the credit crunch and the subprime debacle crashing home values, that last available lifeline is now gone.

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