TR and FDR and HT and LBJ would instantly recognize what is sickest about 2012 America and would be bellowing it from the rooftops. If everyday Americans from 1968 could somehow have been informed that by 2007, LBJ's $10.64/hr minimum wage (adjusted, CPI-U *) would drop almost in half they would have asked whether earth was going to be hid by a comet or some equal disaster. (* http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl?cost1=1.60&year1=1968&year2=2012 )
The cratering of -- both -- the economic and political muscle of the average person can be explained in one word: deunionzation. Given naturally selfish human nature the all-in-one essential of economic or political justice in any society is fairly balanced power. No amount of corporate political muscle (indeed that is what corporations should be exercising in their own interest) is going to oppress an EFFECTIVELY unionized electorate.
Legally mandated, SECTOR-WIDE LABOR AGREEMENTS -- wherein everybody doing the same type of job, for instance retail clerk, in the same geographic locale work under one common contract with all firms -- is the only proven way (proven over half the century and around the world) to fairly balance both labor market AND political forum in an all-in-one stroke.
Don't bother doing anything else to remedy so called "inequality" (the detached intellectual word for the Great Wage Depression/Post-Apocalyptic American Labor Market -- think Soylent Green) if you are not going to do sector-wide bargaining.
Twas post WWII European industrialists who first introduced sector-wide collective bargaining on country wide scales to prevent labor unions from going on a race with each other to the top -- so more resources could be invested into post war rebuilding. Europe's fabled welfare state (which everyone over here seems to think represents the big difference between us and them) was offered to labor as a compensation for the putting up with sector-wide. (England did not adopt sector-wide; why it fell behind the continent -- think I saw this in Barry Eichengreen's book The European Economy Since 1945.)
Conservatively (best as I can understand the figures) average income increased 80% (if not 100%) since 1968 while per capita income increased at most 25% and maybe fallen back. This means that 50% of the work force should be paid at least 50% more -- and ($7.25/hr) minimum wagers 100% more. That is a hell of a lot more all-important than whether 3-5% more of the workforce is unemployed than should be.
(Doubling the minimum wage to $15/hr would add only 4% direct inflation: http://ontodayspagelinks.blogspot.com/2008/08/3-cost-of-gdp-output-and-i... )
A couple of years back Northwest Airlines flight crews gave back a billion dollars in pay -- presumably to stay competitive and viable in the face of competing airline pay cuts. The following year Northwest awarded a thousand managers a billion dollars in bonuses. Supermarket unions all over the county are agreeing to two-tier contracts, sharply reducing the pay of what was once a terrific middle class job (right in the neighborhood) for new entrants under pressure from nonunion big boxes.
Airline and supermarket employees would kill for legally mandated, sector-wide labor agreements (as exist in Germany, France, Argentina, Indonesia and, yes, right next store in French Canada). TR and FDR and HT and LBJ would be bellowing all this from the rooftops.
Angry Bear back-and-forth: