• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

SPRING FUNDRAISER

Is it time for our Spring fundraiser already? If you enjoy what we offer, and have the means, please consider donating. The sooner we reach our modest goal, the faster we can get back to business as (un)usual. Please, stay safe and we’ll see you down the road.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Minimum Wage Revisited

In 1938, the first federal minimum wage was established.  It was set at 25-cents per hour.  Not surprisingly, business groups and industrialists protested strenuously not only at having to pay so exorbitant a rate, but at the federal government’s naked attempt (as they saw it) to “Stalinize” the American economy.

The next year, 1939, the minimum was raised to 30-cents.  By March of 1956, it had crept up to a landmark $1.00 per hour; in May of 1974, it reached $2.00; and by the time Ronald Reagan took office, in 1981, it had risen to $3.35.  Notably, it was under President Reagan that the ratio between the minimum wage and the average worker’s wage began to grow.

Today, although the federal minimum is $6.55, the gap between the minimum wage and the wage of the average worker continues to widen.  In 1968, the minimum wage represented 53-percent of the average worker’s hourly wage; by 2006 it had dropped to 31-percent—this despite the fact that the average worker’s wage, in real dollars, had, itself, declined significantly.

On July 24, 2009, the federal minimum will be raised by seventy cents, to $7.25 per hour.  Let’s do the math.  Under the new rate, if you work eight hours a day, five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, never take vacation or miss even one day due to illness or family emergency, you will earn $15, 080.

After state and federal taxes, social security, FDIC, et al, have been deducted, it’s hard to say how much actual cash you would take home, but, obviously, since what you started with was so little, what you’re left with won’t be much.  Moreover, that $15,000 pre-deduction figure could be more wishful thinking than economic reality, as many of those full-time, 40-hour a week jobs have dried up.  Thirty-hour a week jobs are becoming more common.

Some people—libertarians, hope-to-die conservatives, free market fundamentalists—believe we shouldn’t have anything remotely resembling a federal minimum wage, that the supply-and-demand dynamics of the marketplace should be the sole arbiter.

On the other side, you have progressives saying that, if you’re going to institute such a thing as a minimum wage, the least you can do is make it realistic:  Make it the minimum income on which an average person can actually live.

Arguably, a minimum wage that doesn’t supply the necessary minimum—doesn’t allow one to make the barest living—is more a mathematical construct, a “gimmick,” than a living wage.  As the Unitarian Church aptly summarized it, “the current federal minimum [wage] is a poverty wage, not an anti-poverty wage.”

But if we’re talking about a living wage, what would that minimum be?  By definition, wouldn’t it have to be the amount required for a single person to live independently at what is, more or less, a bare subsistence level:  a tiny apartment, transportation to and from work, utilities, food, toiletries and clothing?

While one might be able to pay for “luxuries” such as DVD rentals, cable TV, the Internet or telephone, it’s unlikely a minimum wage earner could afford a car, car insurance or car maintenance.  Needless to say, health insurance is out of the question.  And, if you start adding dependents to the equation—if you’re a family with kids, or a single mom requiring child-care—you can forget about it.

Some would argue that the aforementioned scenario is too bleak and despairing.  They would argue that, to be able to purchase material goods, people don’t necessarily have to be able to afford those goods.  They don’t need a commensurate income.  All they require is credit.  Unfortunately, there’s a rebuttal to the argument that free and easy credit has no downside, and it can be expressed in two words:  Brutal Recession.

Which brings us to organized labor.  People need to be reminded that America’s most prosperous period, the post-war 1950s (and into the ‘60s), happened to be the same period when the greatest number of America’s workers—approximately 35-percent—belonged to labor unions.  Was that a coincidence?

When we say “most prosperous,” we’re not speaking of the wealthiest Americans (the top 2-3-percent), those who are doing far better today than at any time in the country’s post-war history.  Rather, we’re talking about the middle-class, the vast segment of the population that was thriving in the 1950s—who could not only buy material goods, but could actually afford them.  Unfortunately, that same middle-class began shrinking under the Reagan administration and, alas, has continued to shrink.

A proposal:  Instead of relying on an artificial device called the Federal Minimum Wage (intended to insure that low-wage workers “maintain contact” with the economy), why not keep the Feds out of it entirely?  Why not look to labor and management to reach an equilibrium?

Instead of mandating government minimums which don’t—and never will—provide an actual living wage, we should allow what conservatives themselves call the “inherent wisdom” of the marketplace to prevail.  Allow management and labor to sit down at the table and trust the “wisdom” of the collective bargaining process to lead them to the Promised Land, to a wage/benefit package suitable to both.

It goes without saying that for this arrangement to be effective we’ll need more labor union members, because what used to be a robust 35-percent now stands at a puny 12.4-percent.  The benefits of union membership should be readily apparent.  All one has to do is look around and survey the condition of our  “union deficient” landscape.

There’s always been this nagging belief out there that labor unions are somehow bad for the economy.  That’s  a myth.  It’s corporate-sponsored propaganda.  Unions might be a threat to management autocracy, and harmful to management greed, but they’re certainly not harmful to commerce.  Indeed, commerce loves them.

Economists and progressive business groups (yes, business groups) have acknowledged that higher wages help the economy by increasing the purchasing power of the consumers.  After all, who’s going to buy the stuff available, if the number of flush consumers keeps diminishing?  As George Meany famously said, “The greatest anti-poverty program ever invented was the labor union.”

It’s also been demonstrated that higher wages (union wages) result in greater productivity and lower employee turnover.  It’s an undeniable fact:  good pay and good benefits attract a higher caliber of worker than lousy wages and lousy benefits.

So, besides supplying businesses with more qualified, more stable employees, labor unions create more personal wealth across-the-board.  Those bumper-stickers you still occasionally see aren’t lying:  “Live Better.  Work Union.”  It’s true.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright (“Borneo Bob,” “Larva Boy”) and writer, was a former labor rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
May 29, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Tim Wise
Protest, Uprisings, and Race War
Nick Pemberton
White Supremacy is the Virus; Police are the Vector
T.J. Coles
What’s NATO Up to These Days? Provoking Russia, Draining Healthcare Budgets and Protecting Its Own from COVID
Benjamin Dangl
Bibles at the Barricades: How the Right Seized Power in Bolivia
Kevin Alexander Gray - Jeffrey St. Clair - JoAnn Wypijewski
There is No Peace: an Incitement to Justice
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Few Good Sadists
Jeff Mackler
The Plague of Racist Cop Murders: Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Joshua Frank
In Search of a Lost Socialism
Charles Pierson
Who are the “Wrong Hands” in Yemen?
Andrew Levine
Trump Is Unbeatable in the Race to the Bottom and So Is the GOP
David Schultz
Trump isn’t the Pope and This Ain’t the Middle Ages
Ramzy Baroud
Political Ambiguity or a Doomsday Weapon: Why Abbas Abandoned Oslo
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
A Growing Wave of Bankruptcies Threatens U.S. Recovery
Joseph Natoli
Conditions Close at Hand
N.D. Jayaprakash
No Lessons Learned From Bhopal: the Toxic Chemical Leak at LG Polymers India 
Ron Jacobs
The Odyssey of Elias Demetracopoulos
J.P. Linstroth
Arundhati Roy on Indian Migrant-Worker Oppression and India’s Fateful COVID Crisis
Melvin Goodman
Goodness Gracious, David Ignatius!!
Roger Harris
Blaming the COVID-19 Pandemic on Too Many Humans:  a Critique of Overpopulation Ideology
Sonali Kolhatkar
For America’s Wealthiest, the Pandemic is a Time to Profit
Prabir Purkayastha
U.S. Declares a Vaccine War on the World
David Rosen
Coronavirus and the Telecom Crisis
Paul Buhle
Why Does W.E.B. Du Bois Matter Today?
Mike Bader
The Only Way to Save Grizzlies: Connect Their Habitats
Dave Lindorff
Pandemic Crisis and Recession Can Spark a Fight for Real Change in the US
Nyla Ali Khan
The Sociopolitical and Historical Context That Shaped Kashmiri Women Like My Grandmother in the 1940s
Louis Proyect
Does Neo-Feudalism Define Our Current Epoch?
Ralph Nader
S. David Freeman: Seven Decades of Participating in Power for All of Us
Norman Solomon
Amy Klobuchar, Minneapolis Police and Her VP Quest
Maria Paez Victor
Venezuela in the 2020 Pandemic
Ron Mitchell
Defending Our Public Lands: One Man’s Legacy
Nomi Prins 
The Great Depression, Coronavirus Style: Crashes, Then and Now
Richard C. Gross
About That City on A Hill
Kathleen Wallace
An Oath for Hypocrites
Eve Ottenberg
Common Preservation or Extinction?
Graham Peebles
Air Pollution Mental Illness and Covid-19
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Unearned Income for All
Evan Jones
The Machine Stops
Nicky Reid
Proudhon v. Facebook: A Mutualist Solution to Cyber Tyranny
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What is a “Native” Plant in a Changing World?
Shailly Gupta Barnes
Why are Our Leaders Still Putting Their Faith in the Rich?
John Kendall Hawkins
In Search of the Chosŏn People of Lost Korea
Jill Richardson
Tens of Millions of Are Out of Work, Why on Earth is Trump Trying to Cut Food Aid?
Susan Block
Incel Terrorism
David Yearsley
Plague Music
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail