Millions can’t afford
to shop at their
Sign of the season: Black Friday, which was followed by cyber Monday.
THE SIGNS OF the season – the shopping season, that is – are unmistakable everywhere.
From Black Friday extensions back to “Blue Thursday” and forward to “Cyber Monday,” Americans are being exhorted and cajoled by every means possible to spend as if there is no tomorrow.
The shameful truth, however, is that for a huge number of those serving the shopping hordes, there is no “tomorrow” – except one of bleak, minimum-wage survival.
What makes it worse is that it need not be this way at all. Wherever the electorate is asked, voters overwhelmingly approve raising the minimum wage.
It is an issue that garners bi-partisan support, except amongst certain politicians in hock to retail and fast-food giants. It’s a national disgrace, that could so easily be changed.
WIDELY REPORTED protests at America’s largest retailer WalMart could hardly have escaped the notice of the millions who flocked to its stores over the weekend.
The largest employer in the U.S. didn’t flinch about having food drives for its workers in its stores, nor forcing them to turn to government programs like food stamps to make ends meet.
Fast-food workers, in a similar situation, have already had one strike and another is planned.
The point was driven home with not a little irony in the page one story on Black Friday itself in The New York Times headlined On Register’s Other Side, Little to Spend.
The story in The New York Times on Black Friday about those who can’t shop at their own places of work.
“For retail workers nationwide, who earn a median pay of about $9.60 an hour, or less than $20,000 a year, holiday shopping sprees are most often enjoyed by customers on the opposite side of the counter,” wrote Steven Greenhouse.
“Even their own companies have set up food drives to aid low-paid employees at individual stores or created help lines advising them how to stretch their food dollars and apply for public assistance.”
This would not be necessary if the federal minimum wage were not at its lowest level in terms of purchasing power in more than 40 years.
We reported on this in Support grows for minimum wage increase where we noted that states and cities are moving forward on their own to rise incomes for the lowest paid workers.
Some public opinion polls put support for a proposal to increase the federal minimum to $10.10 per hour at 80 percent.
The economic debate about the effects of such a move have long been settled, but that doesn’t mean there is no well-funded opposition.
This is evident in the tiny municipality of Seatac in Washington state where the voters, just days before Black Friday, became the national leader by raising their minimum to $15 per hour.
The challenge was reported in the Seattle Times story $15 minimum wage passes in SeaTac, but recount coming on Nov. 26. Amy Martinez wrote:
“As supporters of a $15 minimum wage for workers in and around Seattle-Tacoma International Airport declared victory Tuesday, opponents made clear the fight is far from over.
“Common Sense SeaTac, a business-backed political committee opposed to SeaTac Proposition 1’s $15 minimum wage, said it will ask for a recount by hand to ensure “the most accurate possible” results.
The Seattle Times reported on a challenge to the highest minimum wage law in the country, approved in the city of Seatac.
“The announcement came on the same day the King County Canvassing Board ruled that Proposition 1 officially won by 77 votes out of 6,003.”
The voters had Nov. 5 approved the new minimum that affects mainly workers in the hospitality and transportation industries, among the lowest paid anywhere.
But the patchwork of state and local minimum wages that put the floor much higher than the federal level leaves millions behind.
According to the Department of Labor, four states have minimum wage rates below the federal minimum, and five states have no minimum at all.
The point was made again, eloquently, on Monday by The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in his piece titled Better Pay Now.
“[T]he inflation-adjusted wages of nonsupervisory workers in retail trade — who weren’t particularly well paid to begin with — have fallen almost 30 percent since 1973,” Krugman wrote.
“The evidence is overwhelmingly positive: hiking the minimum wage has little or no adverse effect on employment, while significantly increasing workers’ earnings.”
But he leaves the most important point until the end:
“[R]aising the minimum wage would help many Americans, and might actually be politically possible. Let’s give it a try.”
It is without question a political issue. If politics is the art of the possible, then the possibility of improving the lives of millions of Americans – without harming the vast majority – seems within reach.
Indeed, an appeal to goodwill during this special season might result in the best Christmas gift for millions: a pay raise on Jan 1. It’s definitely worth a try.
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