Today in America, millennials’ money is worth less than their parents’ and grandparents’ money was. Each of these generations still exists, of course, but the sad truth is that the very cost of being alive has ballooned to a shocking degree over the last couple of generations.
At the same time, the relative value of our money — which is decided upon by a Federal Reserve that behaves like an independent corporation — has fallen. America has a huge wage problem. Several wage problems, actually.
The Wage Gap(s)
In America, consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of our entire economy. Let that sink in. What this means is that job creators aren’t job creators at all. Employees are the ones creating jobs, from the look of things.
Given the degree to which individual spending power can either enrich or devastate a nation’s economy, it doesn’t make sense that we haven’t achieved consensus on what a living wage looks like. Neither have we agreed on the idea that everyone deserves to earn a livable wage. There is a clear series of strata by which human earning power — and therefore spending power and job-creating power — has been organized by skin color, gender and race.
Here are some of the demographical wage gaps that exist in America:
· Between 1979 and 2016, the wage gap between white men and black men in the U.S. actually grew. In 1979, a black man in America earned, on average, about 80% of the average white man. By 2016, this gap had grown such that an average black male worker earned 70% of the hourly wage of an average white male worker. In other words, black men have to work even longer and harder to close this gap today than they did 38 years ago. For black and white women, the gap widened by 13 percent over the same period.
· The federal government is in a unique position to lead by example where the wage gap, and the monetary value of human life, are concerned. However, income for federal employees lags behind the private sector to such a degree that they frequently rely on additional specific types of insurance and liability services just to ensure job protection. According to the Federal Salary Council, the pay gap between public and private wages in 2017 is almost 32 percent — in favor of the private sector.
The Pitiful Minimum Wage
Many conservative politicians like telling us the minimum wage was never intended to support a family. This is manifestly untrue.
The architects of the minimum wage specifically intended for it to be able to support a family and keep a roof over their heads. In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt said this: “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.”
Indeed. Anything else is uncivilized. Taking home the minimum wage for a job — any job — is like being told by your employer that they’d pay you even less if it wasn’t illegal.
These days, there’s not a single state in the U.S. where a 40-hour minimum wage job earns you enough to pay rent on a two-bedroom apartment. An American worker would have to earn, on average, $21.21 each hour to pay for a modest apartment without exceeding 30 percent of their income. Folks in Hawaii need to earn $35 per hour.
FDR continued: “Without question … (the minimum wage) starts us toward a better standard of living and increases purchasing power to buy the products of farm and factory.”
Which demographic in America might benefit the most from maintaining this artificially high barrier to economic participation and small-business ownership? It’s probably the same folks who buy politicians to maintain their media, telecommunications, energy and car dealership monopolies.
The Assault on Unions and Workers’ Rights
This is a debate we shouldn’t still have to waste our time with. If Libertarians and Republicans don’t wish to starve to death and eventually destroy the federal government, then they must let a little democracy back into the system in the form of strong unions. It’s really that simple.
If you take away federal- and state-level safety nets, let wages stagnate and consolidate your corporations into monopolies and duopolies, then the only check against that kind of monolithic economic power is to empower unions to engage in collective bargaining. Throughout human history, collective bargaining has delivered a stunning array of victories that have, slowly but surely, made industrialized life tolerable.
Unions in America enjoyed a heyday in the ‘30s through the ‘50s, but now even middle-class Americans have been hoodwinked into thinking they’re bad for America. Do you want to know what happens when unions are legal, strong and well-regulated? Workers’ wages rise along with economic productivity and participation.
Unionization is the reason we don’t have to work on the weekends and the reason it’s illegal to put children to work in coal mines. The rise of unions is arguably one of the biggest historical events that changed America — they helped, and still help, ensure a higher quality of life for the people. When unions can negotiate collectively, workers have the means to ensure their earnings are commensurate with the type, difficulty and importance of the work being done and the general cost of living in that part of the country.
Rewriting Our Economic Conditioning
If you read between the lines here, you’ll notice that the American people have, thanks to decades of conditioning, collectively decided to more or less give away their share of the economic pie to oligarchs and monopolists. Supply-side economics don’t work. Assaulting unionization rights is patently undemocratic. Keeping wages low doesn’t magically bolster a company’s innovation mojo.
Low worker wages, in the richest and most productive country in the history of the world, are a political tool like any other. So let’s stop being tools.