I Want to Save a Child's Sight!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Fair Day's Pay

"The federal minimum wage has been a paltry $5.15 an hour for more than eight years. Polls show that there is strong popular support for raising it, but Congress has resisted. Unions, community groups and advocates for the poor are increasingly taking the matter directly to voters through state referendums to raise their states' minimum wages, according to an article yesterday in The Times. Their intentions are laudable, but the efforts only highlight Congress's failure to set the federal minimum wage at a reasonable level."

"Keeping the minimum wage at a reasonable level has appeal across the political spectrum. Liberals see a higher minimum wage as a way to lift the working poor out of poverty and narrow the gap between rich and poor. Many conservatives see it as a way to reward work. In a 2005 Pew Research Center poll, 86 percent of respondents, including 79 percent of social conservatives, supported increasing the minimum wage to $6.45 an hour."

"But the idea has some influential opponents. Business interests, led by the restaurant industry, have lobbied to keep the minimum wage low. Some free-market conservatives, heirs to the original opponents of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, oppose it on ideological grounds. In recent years, these forces have prevailed. The same Congress that has passed huge tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations has consistently refused to help those on the other side of the economic divide." [NYT]

Shame on Congress and all law and policy makers that have shunned the idea of not raising the minimum wage. Many cities and hamlets here in Wisconsin took measures into their own hands, and passed increases in the minimum wage on their own. Milwaukee was considering this, but nothing has happened on it in quite a while.

Ben at Badger Blues notes (from this NYT article) that: "The same report, by the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning research center, and United for a Fair Economy, a group seeking to narrow the gap between rich and poor, found that in 2004 the ratio of C.E.O. pay to worker pay at large companies had ballooned to 431 to 1. If the minimum wage had advanced at the same rate as chief executive compensation since 1990, America's bottom-of-the-barrel working poor would be enjoying salad days, with legal wages at $23.03 an hour instead of $5.15."

For more on what it's like to try to live on a low-income or minimum wage job, read Nickeled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich: "As a waitress in Florida, where her name is suddenly transposed to "girl," trailer trash becomes a demographic category to aspire to with rent at $675 per month. In Maine, where she ends up working as both a cleaning woman and a nursing home assistant, she must first fill out endless pre-employment tests with trick questions such as "Some people work better when they're a little bit high." In Minnesota, she works at Wal-Mart under the repressive surveillance of men and women whose job it is to monitor her behavior for signs of sloth, theft, drug abuse, or worse. She even gets to experience the humiliation of the urine test. So, do the poor have survival strategies unknown to the middle class? And did Ehrenreich feel the "bracing psychological effects of getting out of the house, as promised by the wonks who brought us welfare reform?" Nah. Even in her best-case scenario, with all the advantages of education, health, a car, and money for first month's rent, she has to work two jobs, seven days a week, and still almost winds up in a shelter. As Ehrenreich points out with her potent combination of humor and outrage, the laws of supply and demand have been reversed. Rental prices skyrocket, but wages never rise. Rather, jobs are so cheap as measured by the pay that workers are encouraged to take as many as they can. Behind those trademark Wal-Mart vests, it turns out, are the borderline homeless. With her characteristic wry wit and her unabashedly liberal bent, Ehrenreich brings the invisible poor out of hiding and, in the process, the world they inhabit--where civil liberties are often ignored and hard work fails to live up to its reputation as the ticket out of poverty."

Congress seems so concerned about the next round of upper-bracket tax cuts and tax cuts in general, that they aren't seeing the big picture, or bothering to see the effects of their work. I'm sure glad that we have our legislative priorities in order.

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