During his last State of the Union Address, President Obama declared that “America needs a raise.” Yesterday, he acted on those words. The president announced that salaried employees (5 million Americans) making as much as $50,400 would be eligible for overtime. As Laura Clawson of Daily Kos puts it, employers will no longer be able to use exempt status (salaried employees) to keep from paying overtime. This move by the Obama Administration (if it’s not overturned by a court challenge) will either give employees more money or more time off. The 40 hour week will again become meaningful to millions of Americans. It’s a good day for working people.
P.S. President Obama is featured in The Huffington Post on his overtime reform. The president express great confidence that he is doing the right thing for American workers: "That's how America should do business. In this country, a hard day's work deserves a fair day's pay. That's at the heart of what it means to be middle class in America." I agree, but would add that what the president is doing will also help the working class and the working poor, who are often victims of wage theft. We all deserve a fair day's pay.
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.
Too many people are hung up with resentment about poor people who get benefits. What they need to think about instead is the millions of Americans that work hard, but can’t make enough money to live without some kind of state aid. Huffington Post offers a great article on these people, how hard they work, and how they live. If you are against raising the minimum wage, I recommend that you read this article and think about the people it describes
In his State of the Union speech, President Obama proposed a $9 minimum wage and that the minimum wage should be pegged to inflation. It’s great that he made this statement, but, given the GOP domination of the House, this proposal is nothing more than an act of wishful rhetoric.
It also doesn’t address the bigger problem: stagnant wages and wage cuts. One of my clients has spent 20 years in the insurance industry. Over the last seven years, her commission has been cut from 15% to 10%. If she doesn’t hit a target, it can go as low as 8%. The company she works for is very profitable (You know, one of those major corporations that pays little to know federal taxes). The industry is also profitable. So why the salary cuts? More money needs to be pushed to the top.
I think the minimum wage does need to be raised. I also believe that the government needs to do more to spur job growth. However, as long as workers are getting squeezed in what they are paid and not paid (benefits), the bigger problem will be a shrinking middle class and a larger class – the working poor. Few politicians talk about that problem, and it will impact all of us very soon.
Today’s Chicago Sun-Times featured a depressing article about the growth of low wage workers in Chicago from 2001-2011. Overall, the percentage of low wage workers grew from 23.8% to 31.2%. Workers with college or higher grew from 9.7% to 16.2%.
These numbers signify a much bigger problem: Workers are getting poorer and poorer, especially those paid by the hour. As I wrote a few days ago, politicians can make noise about “good jobs.” However, as long as the trend of lower wages continues, nothing good will happen in the economy. The working poor have no money to buy. The frightened middle save in fear of job loss or a health crisis. They don’t want to join the working poor.
I’m sick of hearing about American exceptionalism. 15% of Americans live in poverty. Millions of others work multiple low wage jobs to live just above the poverty line. Why should we be proud of this situation?
Writing at Common Dreams, Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans, examines 8 myths and truths about the working poor. His first point is striking: 10 million Americans are employed and still living below the poverty line. I won’t go over the other myths which can be found at this link.
Too many politicians, not all Republicans, demonize poor people. Those same politicians often claim to be followers of Jesus, a man who taught his follower to feed the hungry, cure the sick, and clothe the naked. Somewhere, thinking in this country has gone off the rails. I will happily pay more taxes if they are going to people in need. Instead, our taxes are diverted to corporations and subsidies for the wealthy. We do need a revolution, but, as the Dalai Lama has said, it will not be a revolution of politics or economics. It will be a revolution of values – morality.