21st Century Slaves

As these trends spread like a virus through middle class America a new form of slavery is emerging in which an increasing number of families and individuals are being subjected to servitude and imprisoned by poverty.

Slavery has been a part of nearly every civilization and has existed in one form or another since the beginning of time, yet today many people seem to believe slavery is just an ugly part of the past.

According to a study published in 2005 by the International Labor Organization, the labor arm of the United Nations, at least 12.3 million people worldwide have been forced into slavery.  The study focused on the international human trafficking business, which is essentially a modern day form of the slave trade.

Experts estimate 50,000 people are trafficked to the United States every year, mainly women and girls; some found chained in basements, others used as juvenile sex objects, maids or prostitutes. Slavery is not relegated to third world countries. It spans continents and cultures.

Slavery persists today in its sick and criminal form, but it also manifests itself in a less obvious, more pervasive way.

In the U.S., a prime example of the more wide-ranging often discounted form of slavery not investigated by the ILO, or often talked about, is the service industry. It is the lowest paying sector of the workforce, with workers often making the federal minimum wage of $5.15/hr.

Working full-time (40 hours a week, every week of the year) for the minimum wage, an individual will make a gross yearly income of $9,888. The poverty line for an individual living in the contiguous 48 states is $9,800 a year. When time off, applicable taxes and social security are taken into account, individuals barely scraping above the poverty line will almost certainly drop below it. However, you don’t need to be making the minimum wage to feel the pressure of poverty. Workers making two and even three times the minimum wage may still find it hard to provide for themselves and their families. Inflation, energy costs, housing and health care are putting a strain on everyone in the lower echelons of America’s class structure.

Finally, contributing to America’s large Underclass of servants is its enormous prison population, which grew to more than 2.1 million inmates by the end of 2004. Prisoners provide a significant portion of cheap labor for American corporations and manufacture everything from blue jeans to electronics. Corporate use of prison labor highlights the underlying causes of the loss of manufacturing and high tech jobs and the subsequent impact it has had on the American middle class.

The fact is the American economic machine is fueled by cheap labor and an inexhaustible service sector. Outsourcing jobs to China and India is a direct result of corporate reliance on cheap labor. Without it, the consumer lifestyle Americans have become so accustomed to would not persist and corporate profits would disappear.

As life in the 21st century progresses, a harsh reality has become obvious for anyone willing to see. Debt, the high cost of living, fewer professional job opportunities and little to no government assistance is making it difficult, if not impossible to find the type of financial security we deserve. We have become slaves manipulated by the capitalist, consumer economy, which uses poverty as a tool of suppression and punishment. The American dream of freedom and prosperity has been replaced by service and consumerism.