Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Minimum wage increases are working for workers at the bottom, but the middle is getting squeezed

August 3rd, 2018 | Laura Clawson

Here’s news that should make people who consider themselves securely in the middle class sit up and take notice. Major retail chains like Walmart have made a big deal of raising their minimum wage for entry-level workers. But what about experienced workers who’ve been in their jobs for years? If you’re guessing they haven’t seen equivalent raises, consider yourself a realist, not a cynic.

At Walmart, the world’s largest private employer, [six-year employee James] Collins says wages have remained flat — “$11, across the board” — for those around him since the company raised its starting wage in February. Managers, he says, have made it clear that pay increases are unlikely in his current position, where his responsibilities include cleaning up spills, emptying trash cans and maintaining bathrooms.

“A lot of people think it doesn’t take any skill to sweep a floor,” he said. “But after a while, you get fast at it, you develop a system for doing things well.”

It’s not just Collins and the workers around him. 

Wages for the country’s lowest-paid workers have increased 0.7 percent per year since 2007, while those in the middle — the 50th percentile — have gained 0.3 percent annually, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the Economic Policy Institute. (Also worth noting: The country’s highest-paid workers, those in the top 5 percentile, received wage increases of 1.3 percent per year during that period.)

In other words, minimum wage increases have helped the lowest-income workers and class war from above has helped the highest-paid workers, but the workers in the middle are increasingly squeezed. Those workers in the middle include the experienced Walmart worker or a Walmart store manager whose job has been eliminated and replaced with an assistant manager—Walmart has cut 3,500 store managers and replaced them with 1,700 assistant managers, saving money on both numbers and wage levels.

So if you think your years of experience and solid work history will protect you from the inequality economy, think again. If you think you’re too middle class to be worried about how much Walmart is paying its six-year employees, consider that James Collins made $19 an hour at a different job until he was laid off during the recession. Class war from above is coming for everyone but those at the very top.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos Labor on August 3, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

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