Conservatives carp about Americans who “depend on the government.” What they don’t say is that most of these people are working. Between an unlivable minimum wage and jobs that offer less than 40 hours, they qualify for government programs to support with food, housing, and medical care. They aren’t living lives of luxury.
Who really benefits from this system? Large corporations and the investor class who rely on working people to underwrite the subhuman salaries they pay. Laura Clawson of Daily Kos explains how raising the minimum wage would help workers while lowering the deficit. Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker says, says we shouldn’t talk about the minimum wage because it’s not a real issue. Is the family where both parents work two jobs just to get by a real issue?
Democrats are far from perfect, but they’re the best bet working people and the middle class have in this new age of Robber Barons and the slaves they have representing them in federal, state, and local government. There is nothing conservative about rigging the system to make the wealthiest even richer. We need a wealth tax.
Investigative reporter David Sirota has a new home at International Business Times. Today he reports on a trend in city and state government: cut worker pensions while giving aid to billionaires who own sports franchises. Sirota quotes the Emergency Manager [Dictator] Kevyn Orr who calls money put toward the stadium “economic development.” Orr did not address how a reduction in pensions would hurt the economy. Somebody has to sacrifice. It might as well be working people. Their used to doing with less. Billionaires need our help.
Sarah Jaffe of In These Times reports on an effort in Minnesota to fine companies that pay wages so low that employees have to be on state aid. Take Action Minnesota is promoting what it call the “bad business fee,” a fine for each employee who is working while on some form of federal or state support. Jaffe cites a study that claims Walmart employees receive $6.2 billion per year in some form of assistance. That’s $6 billion the American taxpayer is paying to subsidize the nation’s largest private employer – corporate welfare. Jaffe gives several other compelling examples, and I urge you to read her article.
As progressive radio host Thom Hartmann is fond of saying, a business that can’t pay its employees a living wage shouldn’t be in business. People who work for a living shouldn’t have to rely on services that are meant for the poor or unemployed. If we want to promote the work ethic and the dignity of work, we should be as will to say that all workers deserve a living wage. America needs a raise.
Today’s Chicago Sun-Times features a debate on the minimum wage. Tom Balanoff a labor leader, argues that a $15 minimum wage would provide a decent standard of life for workers. Mayor Emanuel’s commission has proposed a $13 an hour minimum phased between now and 2018. Balanoff notes that Los Angeles and Seattle have already passed $15 minimum wage laws. His argument focus on the needs of workers.
Sam Sanchez and Sott Defife, a restaurant owner and an official from the National Restaurant Association, argue that a minimum wage increase will hurt business, that it is “not a silver bullet for addressing the city’s economic challenges.” Twice they call for “comprehensive” measures, but never spell out what they would change. Their focus is on the economy, not the lives of individual workers. Still, they claim that most restaurant workers are young, “first time workers.” Once upon a time, that may have been true. Today most restaurant workers I encounter are adults, often in their thirties or forties. As Sanchez and Defife state, youth unemployment is now over 25%, in no small part because adult men and women who once worked in factories now fill low wage jobs in restaurants or retail.
It’s easy to agree with one side or the other in this debate. I’m for a living minimum wage, which could be index from state to state or region to region. In most places, that would mean at least $15 per hour (an average salary of $30,000 a year). At the same time, small businesses have some reason to be fearful of a minimum wage that would put them at a competitive disadvantage. Franchise restaurants work by economy of scale, which lets them control spending in the way that a small hot dog stand or corner store cannot. If it can be done, minimum wage laws could be written in a way that would protect small businesses. In some ways, that is the current standard in the restaurant industry where tipped workers in many states can be paid less than the minimum wage.
This debate is not simple or easy. My primary concern is with what is fair to working people. A good business will adapt its practices to meet what the market demands. Tax payers should not have to pay for services that help large corporations hire workers at a low wage. We need to demand a society where no one who works full time has to depend on state aid for food, shelter, and healthcare. We need to reward work. America needs a raise.
The former Secretary of Labor takes on those who claim that a raise in the minimum wage would be a “job killer.” Instead, Reich, a trained economist, points out a simple fact: economies grow when people spend. People living on $7.25 an hour can only cover essentials, and often can only do so with the help of safety net programs, which are being cut. Reich points out that Walmart could have raised the wages of its $9 an hour employees to $15 by using the money spent buying back stock on salary.
If we want more jobs and higher wages, we need more spending (and less billionaire greed). Raising the minimum wage (and extending unemployment benefits) would give working class people discretionary income. As they spend more, companies will need more workers to make and sell things. Reich is outlining common sense. Opponents of the minimum wage have no good data to support their claims, so they rely on fear-based rhetoric like “job killer.” They used the same language to demonize the Affordable Care Act. I’m with Reich and President Obama: “America needs a raise.”
Three cheers to Common Dreams for giving thinkers like Reich a platform that is not found in the corporate media (which includes PBS).
Laura Clawson of the Daily Kos has written two recent articles that show how poverty is a growing problem in the U.S. First, she explores how households headed by working single mothers are falling deeper into poverty from 54% in 2007 to 58% in 2012. Beyond the challenge of finding a good job with decent pay, many of these women are challenged by a lack of affordable day care. Many of our politicians claim to the pro-family, but they don’t seem to care about these women and their children.
In a second article, Clawson dismantles the claims that Medicaid and food stamps keep people in poverty. Instead, she shows that without these program our national poverty rate would be 28.7%, much more than the currently shameful 16%. Most of the people benefiting from these programs work, and – despite their hard work – they can’t get ahead. Who does get ahead? Clawson points out that the most successful beneficiary of social safety nets are large corporations who know that they can continue to pay low wages as long as the government will subsidize them. The problem can be summarized in two words: corporate welfare.
Conservatives like to beat the drum of American Exceptionalism. Then they do everything to make that term a big joke. Laura Clawson of Daily Kos examines national rates for the minimum wage. American is nowhere close to being exceptional. Australia, France, Canada, and several other developed countries have a higher minimum wage. Clawson points out that the U.S. has to use social programs to supplement wages of low paid workers. In essence, this means that those who make more than the minimum wage are subsidizing companies that pay the minimum wage. The next time you hear someone complain about government programs, please remind that person that many of the people getting those benefits work. The real winner is the corporations that pay low wages. The real problem is corporate welfare.
I was listening to Thom Hartmann’s talk show a couple of days ago and heard some frightening news. Since 2008, 800,000 Americans have fallen out of the middle class. Hartmann added to this woeful statistic recent discoveries about McDonald’s and Walmart. McDonald’s gives its workers advice on how to limit their diets and how to access social services. Similarly, Walmart was called out for holding a food drive for its low wage employees. In both cases, taxes of the middle class are a type of corporate welfare because they keep employees of Walmart and McDonald’s sheltered, fed, and medically secure. Hartmann looks at these trends and sees one outcome: the death of the middle class.
This story began with a brave action when the Washington D.C. City Council refused to give in to Walmart’s pressure over a living wage ordinance. The Council passed a bill requiring that companies like the nation’s largest retailer pay a minimum wage of $12.50 per hour. The less-than-brave, lame duck (and just plain lame) mayor vetoed the bill.
Now, as Laura Clawson reports in Daily Kos, another turn has taken place. Councilman and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells has proposed a city-wide minimum wage of $10.25. At first glance, this sounds good. The wage is higher than that advocated by President Obama, and it is a quarter more than the minimum wage law passed recently in California.
What’s wrong with this proposal? Walmart saves $2.25 per hour. Wells was part of the minority that opposed the original ordinance. Now he offers a compromise that will protect companies like Walmart (large retailers). Washington voters need to ask: “Mr. Wells, which side are you on?”
P.S. Abby Zimet in Common Dream explains how Walmart’s owners, the Walton family, uses loopholes to keep more and more money. Couldn’t just a little trickle down?
Lies, damn lies, and statistics? Laura Clawson of the Daily Kos examines Walmart’s claim that its average salary for employees is over $12. She finds that this claim may have a little statistical validity, but it was calculated by excluding the wages of part time workers and including those of department managers. Washington DC is debating a law that would require large employers like Walmart to pay a living wage. The city’s mayor has not yet signed the law, which the city council passed.
Many critics of the law say it will take jobs and shopping opportunities from poor parts of the city. An answer to that claim is that companies like Walmart that pay low wages rely on public-sponsored resources such as food stamps, rent vouchers, and Medicaid to keep their workforce alive and healthy. Rather than debate the virtues of the living wage, maybe we should take a hard look at corporate welfare and how America’s wealthiest families benefit from the taxes of poor, working class, and middle class citizens. It’s not just about jobs. We have to think about wages and, in the case of low wage workers, who is paying for the supplementary services those workers receive.
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