wages

McDonald’s is Suing Seattle Over the Minimum Wage. Here’s Why it Matters

Last year, the city passed an ordinance that will gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour within the next few years, putting it on par with San Francisco in having the highest minimum wage in the United States when both are fully implemented. One of the main targets of minimum wage ordinances is the fast food industry – activists and labor organizations have been making a push to get fast food giants to pay a living wage, and these municipal minimum wage ordinances have been one of the tools in their arsenal.

But the fast food industry is fighting back: McDonald’s is suing Seattle, claiming the minimum wage ordinance is unconstitutional because it unfairly discriminates against franchisees.

What is harder for the nonpoor to see is poverty as acute distress: The lunch that consists of Doritos or hot dog rolls, leading to faintness before the end of the shift. The “home” that is also a car or a van. The illness or injury that must be “worked through,” with gritted teeth, because there’s no sick pay or health insurance and the loss of one day’s pay will mean no groceries for the next. These experiences are not part of a sustainable lifestyle, even a lifestyle of chronic deprivation and relentless low-level punishment. They are, by almost any standard of subsistence, emergency situations. And that is how we should see the poverty of so many millions of low-wage Americans–as a state of emergency.
—  Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed

Each year we spend billions of dollars subsidizing profits at large international corporations because they refuse to pay their workers a living wage. It is not fair that taxpayers are footing the bill because these companies’ full-time workers are paid poverty wages and require public assistance just to be able to afford their rent and feed their families.

If these corporations won’t take action, then we will fight for their workers. Click here to tell Congress to raise the minimum wage: http://afsc.me/1nJkgBK

The Great U-Turn

Do you recall a time in America when the income of a single school teacher or baker or salesman or mechanic was enough to buy a home, have two cars, and raise a family? 

I remember. My father (who just celebrated his 100th birthday) earned enough for the rest of us to live comfortably. We weren’t rich but never felt poor, and our standard of living rose steadily through the 1950s and 1960s. 

That used to be the norm. For three decades after World War II, America created the largest middle class the world had ever seen. During those years the earnings of the typical American worker doubled, just as the size of the American economy doubled. (Over the last thirty years, by contrast, the size of the economy doubled again but the earnings of the typical American went nowhere.)  

In that earlier period, more than a third of all workers belonged to a trade union – giving average workers the bargaining power necessary to get a large and growing share of the large and growing economic pie. (Now, fewer than 7 percent of private-sector workers are unionized.) 

Then, CEO pay then averaged about 20 times the pay of their typical worker (now it’s over 200 times). 

In those years, the richest 1 percent took home 9 to 10 percent of total income (today the top 1 percent gets more than 20 percent). 

Then, the tax rate on highest-income Americans never fell below 70 percent; under Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, it was 91 percent. (Today the top tax rate is 39.6 percent.)

In those decades, tax revenues from the wealthy and the growing middle class were used to build the largest infrastructure project in our history, the Interstate Highway system. And to build the world’s largest and best system of free public education, and dramatically expand public higher education. (Since then, our infrastructure has been collapsing from deferred maintenance, our public schools have deteriorated, and higher education has become unaffordable to many.)

We didn’t stop there. We enacted the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act to extend prosperity and participation to African-Americans; Medicare and Medicaid to provide health care to the poor and reduce poverty among America’s seniors; and the Environmental Protection Act to help save our planet. 

And we made sure banking was boring. 

It was a virtuous cycle. As the economy grew, we prospered together. And that broad-based prosperity enabled us to invest in our future, creating more and better jobs and a higher standard of living.  

Then came the great U-turn, and for the last thirty years we’ve been heading in the opposite direction. 

Why?

Some blame globalization and the loss of America's  manufacturing core. Others point to new technologies that replaced routine jobs with automated machinery, software, and robotics. 

But if these were the culprits, they only raise a deeper question: Why didn’t we share the gains from globalization and technological advances more broadly? Why didn’t we invest them in superb schools, higher skills, a world-class infrastructure?

Others blame Ronald Reagan’s worship of the so-called “free market,” supply-side economics, and deregulation. But if these were responsible, why did we cling to these ideas for so long? Why are so many people still clinging to them? 

Some others believe Americans became greedier and more selfish. But if that’s the explanation, why did our national character change so dramatically? 

Perhaps the real problem is we forgot what we once achieved together. 

The collective erasure of the memory of that prior system of broad-based prosperity is due partly to the failure of my generation to retain and pass on the values on which that system was based. It can also be understood as the greatest propaganda victory radical conservatism ever won.

We must restore our recollection. In seeking to repair what is broken, we don’t have to emulate another nation. We have only to emulate what we once had.

That we once achieved broad-based prosperity means we can achieve it again – not exactly the same way, of course, but in a new way fit for the twenty-first century and for future generations of Americans. 

America’s great U-turn can be reversed. It is worth the fight.

theweek.com
One of the biggest crime waves in America isn't what you think it is
And it's being perpetrated by our employers

No one knows exactly how big a problem wage theft is, but in 2012 federal and state agencies recovered $933 million for victims of wage theft. By comparison, all the property taken in all the robberies of all types in 2012, solved or unsolved, amounted to a little under $341 million.

Remember, that $933 million is just the wage theft that’s been addressed by authorities. The full scale of the problem is likely monumentally larger: Research suggests American workers are getting screwed out of $20 billionto $50 billion annually.

And that’s only the wage theft that’s actually illegal, a lot of exploitation and theft by bosses is legal.  (Also, reminder that cops stealing things via “civil forfeiture” is also more than the total amount of robberies too).

Somebody asked me: “You’re a Doctor? How much do you make?”
I replied: “HOW MUCH DO I MAKE?”
I can make holding your hand seem like the most important thing in the world when you’re scared…
I can make your child breathe when they stop…
I can help your father survive a heart attack…
I can make myself get up at 4am to make sure your mother has the medicine she needs to live… and I will work straight through until 4am to keep her alive and start the day all over again!
I work all day to save the lives of strangers…
I will drop everything and run a code blue for hours trying to keep you alive!!!
I make my family wait for dinner until I know your family member is taken care of…
I make myself skip lunch so that I can make sure that everything I did for your wife today was correct…
I work weekends and holidays and all through the night because people don’t just get sick Monday through
Saturday and during normal working hours.
Today, I might save your life.
How much do I make? All I know is, I MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
—  No idea who wrote this originally, a friend posted it on Facebook and it sums up everything. 

Lower income for all women, particularly those of color, means less money to support their families with necessities such as housing, food, education, and health care. Closing the pay gap is even more important for women of color who are more likely than their white counterparts to be breadwinners.

The long-term wage gap hurts families of color tremendously, forcing families to choose between putting food on the table or saving for a college education and retirement. On average, an African American woman working full time loses the equivalent of 118 weeks of food each year due to the wage gap. A Latina loses 154 weeks’ worth of food. The stubbornly persistent gender-based wage gap adds up substantially over the lifetime of a woman’s career. For women of color the loss of savings over a 30-hour-a-week to a 40-hour-a-week work lifespan is significant. A woman of color will have to live on one-third to 45 percent less than a white man based on the average benefits that are afforded through Social Security and pension plans. Research shows that a woman’s average lifetime earnings are more than $434,000 less than a comparable male counterpart over a 35-year working life.

Analysis done in 2012 by the Center for American Progress illustrates that the money lost over the course of a working woman’s lifetime could do one of the following:

–Feed a family of four for 37 years
–Pay for seven four-year degrees at a public university
–Buy two homes
–Purchase 14 new cars

Simply be saved for retirement and used to boost her quality of life when she leaves the workforce

Lifetime earnings are even lower for women of color because they face higher levels of unemployment and poverty rates. In March 2013 unemployment rates of black [women] and Latinas were significantly higher than their white counterparts at 12.2 percent and 9.3 percent respectively compared to white women at 6.1 percent. According to the National Women’s Law Center, poverty rates among women, particularly women of color, remain historically high and unchanged in the last year. The poverty rate among women was 14.6 percent in 2011—the highest in the last 18 years. For black women and Latinas that same year, the poverty rate was 25.9 percent and 23.9 percent, respectively.

—  Sophia Kerby, “How Pay Inequity Hurts Women Of Color,” Black Politics On The Web 4/9/13
The Rise of the Working Poor and the Non-Working Rich


Many believe that poor people deserve to be poor because they’re lazy. As Speaker John Boehner has said, the poor have a notion that “I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.”

In reality, a large and growing share of the nation’s poor work full time – sometimes sixty or more hours a week – yet still don’t earn enough to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. 

It’s also commonly believed, especially among Republicans, that the rich deserve their wealth because they work harder than others. 

In reality, a large and growing portion of the super-rich have never broken a sweat. Their wealth has been handed to them. 

The rise of these two groups – the working poor and non-working rich – is relatively new. Both are challenging the core American assumptions that people are paid what they’re worth, and work is justly rewarded.

Why are these two groups growing?

The ranks of the working poor are growing because wages at the bottom have  dropped, adjusted for inflation. With increasing numbers of Americans taking low-paying jobs in retail sales, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, childcare, elder care, and other personal services, the pay of the bottom fifth is falling closer to the minimum wage.

At the same time, the real value of the federal minimum wage is lower today than it was a quarter century ago. 

In addition, most recipients of public assistance must now work in order to qualify.

Bill Clinton’s welfare reform of 1996 pushed the poor off welfare and into work. Meanwhile, the Earned Income Tax Credit, a wage subsidy, has emerged as the nation’s largest anti-poverty program. Here, too, having a job is a prerequisite.

The new work requirements haven’t reduced the number or percentage of Americans in poverty. They’ve just moved poor people from being unemployed and impoverished to being employed and impoverished.

While poverty declined in the early years of welfare reform when the economy boomed and jobs were plentiful, it began growing in 2000. By 2012 it exceeded its level in 1996, when welfare ended.


At the same time, the ranks of the non-working rich have been swelling. America’s legendary “self-made” men and women are fast being replaced by wealthy heirs. 

Six of today’s ten wealthiest Americans are heirs to prominent fortunes. The Walmart heirs alone have more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans combined.

Americans who became enormously wealthy over the last three decades are now busily transferring that wealth to their children and grand children.

The nation is on the cusp of the largest inter-generational transfer of wealth in history. A study from the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy projects a total of $59 trillion passed down to heirs between 2007 and 2061.

As the French economist Thomas Piketty reminds us, this is the kind of dynastic wealth that’s kept Europe’s aristocracy going for centuries. It’s about to become the major source of income for a new American aristocracy.

The tax code encourages all this by favoring unearned income over earned income. 

The top tax rate paid by America’s wealthy on their capital gains  – the major source of income for the non-working rich – has dropped from 33 percent in the late 1980s to 20 percent today, putting it substantially below the top tax rate on ordinary income (36.9 percent).

If the owners of capital assets whose worth increases over their lifetime hold them until death, their heirs pay zero capital gains taxes on them. Such “unrealized” gains now account for more than half the value of assets held by estates worth more than $100 million.

At the same time, the estate tax has been slashed. Before George W. Bush was president, it applied to assets in excess of $2 million per couple at a rate of 55 percent. Now it kicks in at $10,680,000 per couple, at a 40 percent rate.

Last year only 1.4 out of every 1,000 estates owed any estate tax, and the effective rate they paid was only 17 percent.

Republicans now in control of Congress want to go even further. Last Friday the Senate voted 54-46 in favor of a non-binding resolution to repeal the estate tax altogether. Earlier in the week, the House Ways and Means Committee also voted for a repeal. The House is expected to vote in coming weeks.

Yet the specter of an entire generation doing nothing for their money other than speed-dialing their wealth management advisers is not particularly attractive.

It puts more and more responsibility for investing a substantial portion of the nation’s assets into the hands of people who have never worked.

It also endangers our democracy, as dynastic wealth inevitably and invariably accumulates political influence and power.

Consider the rise of both the working poor and the non-working rich, and the meritocratic ideal on which America’s growing inequality is often justified doesn’t hold up. 

That widening inequality – combined with the increasing numbers of people who work full time but are still impoverished and of others who have never worked and are fabulously wealthy –  is undermining the moral foundations of American capitalism.