Max Rust of the Chicago Sun-Times has produced a concise overview of right-to-work laws and their impact on states and workers. In short, the picture is not pretty. In right-to-work states, wages are lower, infant mortality rates are higher, fewer people have health insurance, and the average level of education is lower. Several states, mostly in the South and Southwest, have had these laws in place since the 1940s. More recently, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin have passed such laws.
Right-to-work laws hurt the ability of workers engage in collective bargaining. Yes, they do give a few people the freedom to avoid union dues. Many others, however, have seen hourly wages in these states go down over recent decades. Unions are far from perfect. In fact, today’s Chicago Sun-Times also features a great investigative article on the family of a local Teamsters’ official. Even so, unions enable workers to bargain for better wages and working conditions. If unions are so bad, why do corporations and billionaires participate in groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Club for Growth, and ALEC? If the richest people in American can collaborate to protect their interests, shouldn’t working class and middle class Americans have the same right?
We frequently hear that college graduate earn more than those without degrees. That claim may be true, but it ignores an important trend: young college graduates wages are falling.
Daily Kos reports that the real hourly wages for young male graduates is $17.81 and $16.60 for young female graduates. As recently as 2009, males earned more than $20 and females more than $18. The article also points out that this group saw no real growth between the years of 2000-2007. Given the heavy debt many students have taken on, lower wages will mean that post-2000 college graduates will buy homes later – if they buy them at all. They will also probably spend less on cars and “luxuries.”
This article and the great graph accompanying it is further evidence that we have a wage problem that is much more significant than unemployment. New jobs will only be created when the economy expands, which is a function of spending. If people like new college grads are losing ground, the future of our economy and the future of the middle class is very dim.
What can you do if you’re a new graduate or someone who cares about a new graduate? Teach them to play the salary game. Don’t stay at one company and wait for a raise that will be small – if there is a raise at all. New grads should keep dusting their resume off every 18-24 months. Keep looking for a new employer who will pay more. It’s not fun to look for work. It’s worse to work for less – and less.
More bad news for working people. Travis Waldron of Think Progress reports that corporate earnings have increased 20x more than workers’ disposable incomes since 2008. Waldron present another sickening statistic: “From 2009 to 2011, 88% of national income growth went to corporate profits while just one percent went to workers’ wages, and hourly earnings for workers actually fell over that time.”
As Waldron asks, if the job creators (also known as the “makers”) are doing so well, where are the jobs? We might add the questions: Where are the raises? Where are the healthcare increases? Where are the 401K matches? Why doesn’t Marissa Mayer provide her employees the same on-the-job day care she gives herself? It’s pure, simple greed.
Conservatives condemn government action to support workers as a matter of “picking winners and losers.” Given Waldron’s report, workers clearly have been the losers over the last five years. When will they get to win?
Writing in the New York Times, Susan Lambert, a Professor is the Social Work Program at the University of Chicago, explores the issue of women who work low wages and work “flexible” schedules. Flexible sounds warm and fuzzy. Everybody likes things that are flexible. The problem is that employers are using this word to mask the fact that employees will only work when there is work – on call.
Once upon a time, I managed a phone center that offered on call positions. My bosses called the position flexible. After about six months of lying to people, I put my foot down and started telling prospective employees the truth. An on call position can be a good thing for someone who’s working full time and looking for supplemental income. For someone relying on a job to pay their bills, an on call position doesn’t work. You can’t tell from week to week how many hours will be available. It is impossible to budget for rent, food, and other essentials.
As Professor Lambert attests, more hourly employees today are given no option. Their schedules are flexible. She suggests that the government must legislate a solution. I’d like to agree, but the idea seems beyond utopian given our current political climate.
What we need is real solidarity. When a company treats workers like dogs, it needs to be called out and boycotted. As long as consumers want cheap at whatever cost, the cost will be the exploitation of their fellow workers. We need to stop blaming the employer and the government. Look in the mirror. If you shop at a company that pays its workers wages that force them to use food stamps, you are supporting exploitation. Worse than that, you are saying its o.k. for your tax dollars to supplement what the employer pays workers, which is nothing more than corporate welfare.
American workers need to wake up. It’s not the fault of big corporations. We know their games, and we have to put an end to them. Solidarity.
Paul Krugman has posted two very disturbing blogs on wages. In one, he demonstrates that median earnings for full-time male employees have been flat since the 1970s. How do people compensate for inflation? Krugman answers this question with a second graph that shows rising levels of debt from the 1980s-2010. In his second post, Krugman contrasts a steady growth in productivity over 40 years with a flat line for hourly compensation since the 1970s. If this graph is accurate, who benefited from the increase in productivity? It wasn’t hourly workers.