Posts Tagged ‘Minimum Wage’
Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016
The Heritage Foundation has released its annual “Index of Economic Freedom.” As America enters an election season increasingly influenced by anger at an economy rigged in favor of the wealthy, maybe it’s time to ask: What is “economic freedom,” and who is it for?
What does economic freedom mean to you, personally? Given that we only recently recovered from a serious national bout of “Powerball Fever,” it’s a safe bet that for most people it means not having to worry about having enough money. It means earning a livable wage; enough to meet basic needs, like food, shelter, transportation, and medical care. It means earning enough to support your family, and having leisure time to enjoy your family. It means being able to educate your children — or yourself — without putting yourself in hock with debt. It means having a fair shot at reaching the next rung on the economic ladder, and securing a better future for your children. It means being able to retire with a decent standard of living.
For the Heritage Foundation, “economic freedom” is “the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labor and property.” Who’d disagree with that? However, the Heritage definition quickly moves from a focus on the individual to a society in which “governments allow labor, capital, and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain liberty itself.”
It sounds good, until you realize we’re not talking about the rights or freedoms of persons like you and me, but wealthy people and “corporate persons.” Heritage breaks “economic freedom” down into four pillars: “Rule of Law,” concerning property rights and “freedom from corruption”; “Limited Government,” concerning “fiscal freedom” and government spending; “Regulatory Efficiency,” concerning “business freedom”, “labor freedom”, and “monetary freedom”; and “Open Markets,” concerning “trade freedom”, “investment freedom,” and “financial freedom.” They repeat the word “freedom” as often as possible, but what do all of those things mean in reality?
If you’re an average worker, it means little to no “regulations concerning minimum wages.” So employers can pay you as little as they like. If you can’t live on what they pay, you’re free to try to earn more elsewhere. Good luck with that, because who gets rich paying higher wages than their competitors? Several of the countries in the Heritage’s “economic freedom” top 10 had the lowest hourly minimum wages, including Chile ($2.20) and Estonia ($2.70). Others have no minimum wage.
There are some developed countries with no minimum wage on Heritage’s index, like Switzerland (number 4) and Denmark (number 12, just behind the U.S.), but they tend to rely on strong trade unions to negotiate fair wages for workers.
If you’re an American worker, it means driving down wages with trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), that institute what Heritage calls “trade freedom,” defined as “the absence of tariff and non-tariff barriers” on imports and exports of goods and services. The top 10 on Heritage’s index is almost a membership list of TPP countries, including Singapore, New Zealand, Chile, Australia and Canada.
It means there are few, if any, labor laws prescribing maximum working hours. There’s no limit on how many hours your employer can require you to work. It means you don’t even have a right to a two-day weekend.
It means there are few, if any, “laws inhibiting layoffs,” “severance requirements,” or “measurable regulatory restraints on hiring and hours worked.” In other words, forget about “right to work” states. It’s a “right to work” world, in which you have the right to work harder and longer for less.
It means no Social Security as we know it. In fact, it means no government programs, as Heritage’s index uses zero government spending as a benchmark. (So underdeveloped countries with little governmental capacity may receive “artificially high scores” for government spending.) The government won’t have anything to spend anyway, because “fiscal freedom” means a low top marginal income tax rate, and a low top marginal corporate tax rate. The lower the rates, the higher the “fiscal freedom” score. Serving as a tax haven for corporations and wealthy individuals seeking to avoid taxes back home, under the banner of “investment freedom,” can earn countries like Ireland (number eight on Heritage’s index) high “economic freedom” scores.
How does all this “economic freedom,” mostly for the wealthy and “corporate persons,” work out for the rest of society? According to Heritage, more “economic freedom” is supposed to mean less inequality. Yet, some of the highest ranking countries on Heritage’s index have the highest rates of inequality.
? Despite being number one on Heritage’s index, Hong Kong’s yawning gap between rich and poor has fueled protests, despite increasing minimum wages.
? Number two on Heritage’s index, Singapore has one of the highest rates of inequality, leading to calls for the government to take action.
? The “miracle of Chile” (number seven on Heritage’s index), so christened by conservative economist Milton Friedman, has lost its shine as Chile’s plantation economy has made it one of the countries with the most serious inequality problems.
Every year Heritage comes out with a new “economic freedom” index, and every year the questions behind the numbers is the same: What is economic freedom, and who is it for? The answer remains the same, too. Heritage’s “economic freedom” is freedom for the wealthy and giant corporations to further consolidate their wealth and power, and not much else.
This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on February 2, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Wednesday, December 16th, 2015
A sustained campaign on behalf of Senate cafeteria workers – including a 63-year-old employee who was homeless because he could not earn enough money to afford an apartment – has succeeded this week in getting these workers a desperately needed boost in pay and benefits.
Thanks to the organizing efforts of Good Jobs Nation and other allies, Senate officials signed a new contract with the workers that raises their minimum pay to $13.30 an hour and brings the average pay to workers close to the $15 an hour that the workers were demanding.
News of the agreement was published Monday by The Washington Post.
The Senate cafeteria workers were held up as a prime example of the kinds of poverty-wage jobs held by people under federal contracts. The company with the contract to manage the Senate cafeteria, Restaurant Associates, is part of a multinational corporation that boasted inits 2014 annual report that it had done well enough to offer to increase its dividend payments to shareholders by 10.5 percent as well as return 1.5 billion pounds – more than $2 billion – to shareholders via share buybacks and other means.
There was plenty of room to give a raise to stockholders, but not to the Senate cafeteria workers – at least not until the Senate cafeteria workers put their own jobs on the line to call attention to their plight. Their bold decision to hold one-day strikes, lead demonstrations and tell their stories led to several Democratic senators – including Minority Leader Harry Reid, Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders – and their staffs announcing a boycott of the cafeteria every Wednesday until the demands of the cafeteria workers were met.
The pressure on behalf of the workers appears to have made an impression on Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, who when signing the new contract said that he was “glad their concerns were heard and taken into consideration in the new contract.”
One concern, though, remains unaddressed: the workers’ demand for the ability to form a union. Restaurant Associates remains subject to complaints filed with the National Labor Relations Board that they have improperly interfered with the ability of the cafeteria workers to organize. Paco Fabian, a spokesman for Good Jobs Nation, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying that the cafeteria workers “won’t stop fighting until they get a voice on the job.” And neither should we.
This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on December 15, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole worked at Campaign for America’s Future. He attended Pennsylvania State University and lives in Washington, DC.
Wednesday, December 9th, 2015
Last year, 100 low-wage workers in Wisconsin decided to sue their governor, Scott Walker (R), over their pay. The state had a century-old statute on the books saying that the minimum wage “shall be not less than a living wage,” enough “to permit an employee to maintain herself or himself in minimum comfort, decency, physical and moral well-being.” The workers said they weren’t making enough to meet that standard, demanding the governor take the required action to increase it.
But this week they were handed a final defeat: A judge dismissed their lawsuit. That’s not because Walker’s administration was found to be in compliance with the statute. It’s because rather than increase the state’s minimum wage, the administration simply erased the law.
“The lawsuit has just been dismissed because there’s now no law to rule on,” explained Lisa Lucas, communications director for Wisconsin Jobs Now, one of the groups that helped bring the original suit. “So it wasn’t surprising. But it was disappointing.”
An 11-hour addition to the state budget passed and signed in July eliminated the living wage statute, instead replacing all references to a living wage with the words “minimum wage.” “The budget itself was a really sneaky, underhanded way to do it,” Lucas said. “They stuck the repeal in an omnibus motion.” And it also flew under the radar thanks to bigger controversies over other such additions, such as the failed attempts to gut the state’s government transparency laws.
The budget’s amendment completely changed the ordinance. It was specifically put forward in 1913 to ensure that women and minors were paid enough to be able to afford the cost of basic necessities like rent and clothing, which was updated in 1919 to cover all workers. Now it merely ensures a minimum wage, which hasn’t been increased in Wisconsin since the last time the federal minimum wage went up in 2009.
And in that intervening time since the last hike, new Census Bureau numbers show that median household income fell significantly in two-thirds of counties in the state, dropping by at least 10 percent in 10 and only rising in two. Lucas sees a connection to the minimum wage. “Prices have gone up, everything has gone up including rent, except the minimum wage,” she said. And an analysis by her organization found that nearly 47 percent of the state’s workers make less than $15 an hour.
Lucas said discussions with the legal team at her organization are still ongoing, but given that there’s no law to sue under anymore, it is unlikely to pursue more legal action. Instead, the group is focusing on political pressure in 2016 to rally voters and elect officials who support a minimum wage increase. And while the defeat was disappointing, it may have come with a silver lining. “If there’s anything good that comes out of it, it’s just revved up the community to work that much harder in 2016,” she said. The workers themselves who were involved in the original suit “are more amped up than ever to go elect some people who will support them and fight for their values.”
And while she pointed out that a $15 minimum wage bill has gained some support in the state legislature, she also said her group will be focused on issues in addition to a higher minimum wage: paid leave, scheduling reform, and more full-time hours among them. “Besides wages, there’s other things that workers need,” she said.
Wisconsin is “home of the labor movement,” she noted. “We’re proud of our progressive history and we want to continue living it.”
This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on December 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.
Tuesday, November 17th, 2015
When a group of young fast food workers decided to lift their voices on the job and join together in the demand for better wages, no one believed anything tangible would come from it. Two months ago, those same workers won $15/hr.
Their action and bravery sparked a global movement known as the Fight for 15, and as a childcare worker who cares for other children while barely making enough to care for myself, I am proud to be in the Fight For 15. We deserve to be able to take care of our families just as well as we take care of the children in the classroom.
Enough is enough.
Nearly half of all workers across the country make less than $15 an hour – workers in fast food, home care, child care, airports and universities. We are uniting with low wage workers throughout the country because poverty wages must end.
We are in the streets because the cost of living continues to increase while wages remain stagnant. About one in seven childcare workers lives below the official poverty line. In many regions, preschool and childcare workers earn a fraction of what’s required for a minimally decent standard of living.
I have raised four great kids as a childcare worker by picking and choosing which bills to pay. I have over 15 years of experience and still only earn $8.50 an hour. One day I would like to move up and lead my own classroom but that’s not possible with my CDA (Child Development Associate Credential. There is no room for the expense of additional classes in my tight budget.
11 million Americans have won raises since the first fast food strike. We are winning because we are united in the fight for a society we want: one where we can give our families a good life, support our communities, and leave a more safe and stable world for future generations. I am all in on this fight and you should be too.
This article was originally printed on SEIU in November, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
Thursday, November 5th, 2015
Ralph knows firsthand that non-unionized workers lack basic rights. Last year he got a text from his boss while at a cancer clinic in Spokane, Wash. After receiving chemotherapy treatment, Ralph learned he was being terminated from his job in the produce transportation industry—a decision his employer had no legal obligation to justify. According to Ralph, he was fired for “insubordination” after he began to question the business’s finances. Now, he’s been forced to take a minimum-wage job and file for bankruptcy, and could lose his home.
“I will not recover from this in my lifetime,” Ralph tells In These Times. “Tell me where the justice is in that.” (Ralph wished to remain pseudonymous because he is exploring filing a suit against his former employer, though lawyers have told him that he probably does not have a viable case.)
Workers without a union contract lack any guarantee of due process on the job, let alone a dignified wage. Other than Montana, no state—nor the federal government—requires employers to give a “just cause” for firings. But a movement in Spokane has gotten a first-in-the-nation Worker Bill of Rights on November’s ballot, which, if passed, would act as a kind of union contract for all workers in the city.
The proposition is being championed by Envision Spokane, a labor-community coalition. Envision Worker Rights, a sister political committee of the group, announced that it would introduce a new, worker-focused measure, and gathered more than 2,600 signatures to ensure its place on the city’s ballot.
Spokane’s Worker Bill of Rights would amend the city charter to provide several new on-the-job protections. It would give all Spokane workers rights to equal pay for equal work and to not be wrongfully terminated, as Ralph believes he was. It would also guarantee a “family wage” sufficient to cover basic necessities such as food, housing, utilities and childcare for workers of large employers. When employers run afoul, workers would be entitled to sue.
This may seem straightforward, but typically workers must hash out these protections through the arduous process of bargaining a union contract. Granting them proactively to all workers represents a promising new paradigm.
Thomas Linzey, executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which is supporting the Worker Bill of Rights, explains that under current law, “in non-unionized, private workplaces, workers have no constitutional rights. It’s why e-mails can be read, urine can be tested, lockers searched. … By prohibiting firings without cause, due process constitutional rights would be afforded to all people working within the City of Spokane.” This departs from the “state-action” doctrine, the bedrock legal principle that the Constitution only protects citizens from the government, not from private entities.
When faced with efforts to protect workers and communities, corporations have often carped that their own rights are being violated. The International Franchise Association (IFA), for example, sued the City of Seattle over a $15 minimum-wage ordinance passed in June 2014, saying, among other things, that it discriminated against franchises and violated their constitutional right to equal protection. A U.S. appeals court ruled otherwise, and Spokane’s initiative is clearly not afraid of violating so-called corporate rights. The amendment declares that corporations “shall not be deemed to be ‘persons’ ” with legal rights if this interferes with the workers’ rights outlined in the measure. While Spokane is unlikely to reverse longstanding legal precedent on its own, advocates see the Worker Bill of Rights as part of a national movement to challenge corporate personhood.
This concept is resonating with many in the region and beyond. Some nine local unions and two regional labor councils have endorsed the initiative, along with community groups such as 15 Now Oregon and national figures like Noam Chomsky. Beth Thew, secretary-treasurer of the Spokane Regional Labor Council, the regional arm of the AFL-CIO, tells In These Times that the Worker Bill of Rights is “basically everything that organized labor stands for.” Given the decline in union density nationwide, she says, it makes sense “to take a more radical tactic.”
The list of backers also includes Democratic and Green Party-endorsed Spokane mayoral candidate Shar Lichty, the self-proclaimed “Bernie Sanders of Spokane.” Lichty acknowledges that “poverty is a huge issue here in Spokane”—more than 15 percent of residents live below the poverty line—and says she will defend the measure if elected.
As a result, Envision Spokane’s message is winning support from people like Ralph, who, though struggling to stay out of poverty himself, is phone banking for the campaign. “People today are just trying to fricking survive till the next day,” he tells In These Times.
The Worker Bill of Rights builds on Envision Spokane’s previous efforts to pass a Community Bill of Rights, which similarly challenged corporate personhood. The measure would have given neighborhoods power over local development and increased local environmental protections, among other provisions. First introduced on the ballot in 2009, the proposition failed to gain a majority of votes, and an updated version lost narrowly in 2011. The measure qualified again in 2013, but that vote has been delayed by a pre-election lawsuit brought by a coalition of county commissioners and business groups. The Washington Supreme Court will hear the case in November.
In August, the Worker Bill of Rights dodged a similar legal challenge, this time by Spokane’s own Republican Mayor David Condon, who sought to keep the measure off the ballot. The City of Spokane filed a lawsuit arguing, among other things, that the provision denying corporate personhood was unconstitutional because it would deny corporations access to the courts. A superior court judge ruled that the mayor did not have legal standing to keep the measure off of ballots, but city officials have persisted in their opposition. City Council members have also added controversial advisory questions about the potential costs of the initiative—whether, for example, the city should raise taxes to pay for it—that could sway voters against the measure.
Brad Read, a longtime Spokane high school English teacher and Envision Spokane organizer, is hoping that voters recognize the critical importance of the Worker Bill of Rights.
“It’s about the rights of real people … taking precedence over corporations,” he says. “If we don’t start to chip away at this edifice that has been carefully crafted for over 200 years, then we’re screwed.”
This article was originally printed on InTheseTimes.org on October 26, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Simon Davis-Cohen is a New York City-based writer examining the powers of local governments and corporations in the United States.
Wednesday, October 28th, 2015
Yesterday I joined my brothers and sisters around the world at Ronald Reagan national airport in the demand for higher wages, better trainings and working conditions for airport workers. I got involved with the union and Fight for 15 because I saw the imbalance of power that is hurting people.
As a cabin cleaner at San Francisco International Airport, I am proud to say that because we have a union, we have some of the highest working standards in the country, but I know there are many more who don’t and need our support. Folks like Ababuti Ogalla, a wheelchair assistant at Boston Logan Airport. Like many, he is an immigrant who came to America to build a decent life for his family.
“I started working at Boston Logan in 2011, but I quickly realized that with two kids and a wife to support, my pay doesn’t even cover my rent and bills. That’s not the America I believed in. Now I work two jobs, barely have any time to spend with my family, and still struggle to make ends meet.”
Ababuti is right. That’s not the America any of us believe in. We continue to fight because we know we can raise the minimum wage and support the ones we love with dignity and respect.
Too many airport workers are paid minimum wage or less and that’s not right. We take pride in our jobs and play a key role in helping more than 393 million passengers yearly enjoy a safe and secure travel experience. But without health insurance or sick days, we risk losing our jobs every time we are sick or have a family emergency. It doesn’t make sense; America spends billions annually on airport security, yet the very people charged with implementing security measures are paid poverty wages.
The rally at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was just one of a series of events this week. We hosted our first ever National Airport Worker Convention, where we developed a national strategy to win $15 and union rights for all airport workers. We then took to Congress to urge our representatives to seek a federal solution to the problems faced by contracted out workers at our nation’s airports. Many pledged their support to our fight, knowing that both, $15 and union rights, will ensure better standards for workers and passengers.
By marching, protesting, and striking at airports across the U.S., already 45,000 airport workers have won wage increases and critical improvements including healthcare and paid sick leave. But there is still so much more to do. And despite all of us coming from different parts of the country and world — the United States, Europe and Australia – we all left the convention committed to one fight and one collective voice.
I am excited to see the positive changes we’re going to bring to airport workers.
This article was originally printed on SEIU in October, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
Tuesday, October 20th, 2015
Have you noticed how often conservatives who disagree with a policy proposal call it a “job killer?”
They’re especially incensed about proposals to raise the federal minimum wage. They claim it will force employers to lay off workers worth hiring at the current federal minimum of $7.25 an hour but not at a higher minimum.
But as Princeton University economist Alan Krueger pointed out recently in the New York Times, “research suggests that a minimum wage set as high as $12 an hour will do more good than harm for low-wage workers.”
That’s because a higher minimum puts more money into the pockets of people who will spend it, mostly in the local economy. That spending encourages businesses to hire more workers.
Which is why many economists, like Krueger, support raising the federal minimum to $12 an hour.
What about $15 an hour?
Across America, workers at fast-food and big-box retail establishments are striking for $15. Some cities are already moving toward this goal. Bernie Sanders is advocating it. A national movement is growing for a $15 an hour minimum.
Yet economists are nervous. Krueger says a $15 an hour minimum would “put us in uncharted waters, and risk undesirable and unintended consequences” of job loss.
Yet maybe some jobs are worth risking if a strong moral case can be made for a $15 minimum.
That moral case is that no one should be working full time and still remain in poverty.
People who work full time are fulfilling their most basic social responsibility. As such, they should earn enough to live on.
A full-time worker with two kids needs at least $30,135 this year to be safely out of poverty. That’s $15 an hour for a forty-hour workweek.
Any amount below this usually requires government make up the shortfall – using tax payments from the rest of us to finance food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and other kinds of help.
What about the risk of job loss? Historically, such a risk hasn’t deterred us from setting minimum work standards based on public morality.
The original child labor laws that went into effect in many states at turn of last century were opposed by business groups that argued such standards would raise the costs of business and force employers to lay off large numbers of young workers.
But America decided the employment of young children was morally wrong.
The safety laws enacted in the wake of the tragic Triangle Shirt Waste Factory fire of 1911, which killed 145 workers, were also deemed “job killers.”
“We are of the opinion that if the present recommendations [for stricter building codes] are insisted upon…factories will be driven from the city,”argued New York’s association of realtors.
But New York and hundreds of other cities enacted them nonetheless because they viewed unsafe sweatshops morally objectionable.
It was the same with the 1938 legislation mandating a forty-hour workweek with time-and-a-half for overtime, along with the first national minimum wage.
“It will destroy small industry,” predicted Georgia Congressman Edward Cox. It’s “a solution of this problem which is utterly impractical and in operation would be much more destructive than constructive to the very purposes which it is designed to serve,” charged Rep. Arthur Phillip Lamneck of Ohio.
America enacted fair labor standards anyway because it was the right thing to do.
Over the years America has decided that certain kinds of jobs – jobs that were done by children, or were unsafe, or required people to work too many hours, or below poverty wages – offend our sense of decency.
So we’ve raised standards and lost such jobs. In effect, we’ve decided such jobs aren’t worth keeping.
Even if a $15 an hour minimum wage risks job losses, it is still the right thing to do.
This post appeared in Our Future on October 19, 2015. Originally posted at RobertReich.org. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century.
Sunday, October 18th, 2015
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman keeps cracking down on wage theft, and around 250 workers will be sharing in a nearly $500,000 settlement from four current and former Papa John’s franchisees.
“Once again, we’ve found Papa John’s franchises in New York that are ripping off their workers and violating critical state and federal laws,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “Once again, I call on Papa John’s and other fast food companies to step up and stop the widespread lawlessness plaguing your businesses and harming the workers who make and deliver your food.”
Though it often isn’t treated this way, it actually is illegal to fail to pay minimum wage or overtime, to make people work off the clock, to force workers being paid at the tipped worker subminimum wage to do non-tipped work, and a disturbing list of other ways businesses have found to keep money that workers have earned. And about that “once again”:
In July, the attorney general’s office arrested Abdul Jamil Khokhar, owner of nine Papa John’s stores in New York, accusing him of breaking minimum wage and overtime laws. According to his plea agreement, Khokhar could serve up to 60 days in jail. In another case, the attorney general’s office secured a judgment of nearly $3 million against two other Papa John’s franchisees.
So while the workers were technically employed by—and cheated by—the franchisees, at a certain point you see a pattern and start to think maybe the parent company has something to do with it. That’s one of the reasons the National Labor Relations Board pushed to treat some fast food chains as joint employers responsible for working conditions in franchise restaurants.
In 2013, a report from Fast Food Forward found 84 percent of New York City fast food workers reporting that they’d been victims of wage theft. Fully 100 percent of fast food delivery workers said the same. Schneiderman’s efforts to crack down have also led to settlements at franchises of other chains, including Domino’s and McDonald’s.
This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on October 17, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.
Tuesday, October 13th, 2015
Thousands of SEIU janitors are traveling to the City of Brotherly Love today to hold a massive rally in support of nearly 75,000 east coast janitors who are negotiating fair wages and benefits this fall. Across the country, thousands more are stickering up in their worksites and marching in the streets to fight for $15 and to #RaiseAmerica with good jobs.
This rally is the latest escalation in a nationwide movement to raise our communities by standing together for good jobs.
Already this year, janitors have won historic wage and job improvement increases. In March 2015, thousands stood in solidarity with Chicago and Cleveland, as they negotiated their contract, and in June we rallied again in solidarity with Detroit and Washington D.C.
More than 50% of janitors with new contracts will make more than $15 an hour by the end of this next contract. And each city has won important additional standards, like increased sick days, full-timing of work, strong non-discrimination language, and protecting employer-paid healthcare.
And we’re not done yet. 130,000 members are standing strong for our east coast brothers and sisters today. In 2016, we’re taking the fight back out West – to Minnesota and LA, Houston, Seattle and Denver. And we’re supporting our brothers and sisters in airports, security, industrial laundry, home care, child care, and in fast food.
We fight because we know our country can do better. We fight because the communities we live in are still fighting for $15 and the right to form a union. We’ve won for working people before, and we will win again. We will keep fighting until every working person in America has $15 and union rights.
This article was originally printed on SEIU in October, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
Friday, September 11th, 2015
As states, cities and municipalities across the country raise wages to improve the lives of working people, it is worth highlighting how such moves affect low-income communities of color.
Many argue that higher wages hurt job growth. Here’s why that thinking is wrong.
The Congressional Budget Office, in an extensive review of the available research on the effects of the minimum wage, found that as many studies found job gains as found job losses, with the average estimate being that increases in the minimum wage have no measurable effect on employment. Digging more deeply into the studies’ various methodologies, the CBO noted that the best and most convincing studies looked specifically at instances in which minimum wages were increased in localities where bordering jurisdictions did not raise their minimum wage. The CBO found that in those studies, no significant employment effects were observed in the localities that raised their minimum wage compared with employment in the bordering communities. On that basis, the current consensus among economists is that raising the minimum wage has negligible effects on employment.
During the expansion of private-sector employment that began in 2010, and is now at record length, many states and localities have raised their minimum wage. Despite this, the sector most sensitive to increases in the minimum wage—the fast-food restaurant sector—has seen the greatest job growth of any sector. Job growth in those states with higher minimum wages is not lagging job growth in states that have failed to raise their minimum wage; again, this is true when looking at neighboring states with different minimum wages.
It continues to be the case that minimum wages are presented as a creator or destroyer of jobs. In reality, job growth is driven by rising incomes and growing customer bases that demand products, prompting businesses to respond by hiring more people to increase their output and serve the growing customer demand. Low wages do not create jobs or expand customer bases.
An error often repeated within the black community confuses the notion of not employed with unemployed. These are two separate concepts, and economists use them to understand the policy solution. The black community suffers from a very high unemployment rate—the share of people actively trying to find work. Nationally, while the number of unemployed people per job opening has come down, it remains higher than when the labor market peaks at slightly fewer than two unemployed people per job opening. The black community also suffers from a low labor-force participation rate, which is the share of people either employed or looking for work—those who are active members of the labor market.
Because of high unemployment rates, black working people are far more likely than white working people to accept low-wage work. Among households with full-time year-round working people, 9.2% of black families live in poverty compared with 3.4% of white families; among female-headed households in the black community, it’s 18.1%. At every level of educational attainment, black income is less than white income, just as at every level of educational attainment, black unemployment rates are higher than those of whites. Lowering black people’s wages will not close the unemployment gap faced by black working families.
Blacks will work for less, but that doesn’t mean blacks will work for anything. Some are not active in the labor market because of discouragement over limited job openings. However, many are discouraged not over job openings but over wages. Non-employment includes both those who are unemployed—actively looking for work—and those not in the labor force at all, such as young people who would rather pursue more education than take low wages, mothers who can’t afford transportation and child care expenses at low wages, and non-custodial fathers who wouldn’t net an income at low wages after paying for transportation and child support.
Raising wages will increase black labor-force participation. More black working people will continue to be engaged in job search if the jobs they are chasing pay higher wages. Working and being poor can be a poverty trap itself. Those who want to help the black community should work to raise the wages of the jobs that black people find themselves locked into. Raising wages for black working families means that money will support the growth and survival of businesses in their community.
This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on September 11 ,2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: William E. Spriggs is the Chief Economist for AFL-CIO. His is also a Professor at Howard University. Follow Spriggs on Twitter: @WSpriggs.