A Debate About Minimum Wage: Who Are We Kidding?

News flash: The Republicans are still doing everything they can to self-destruct and to take the middle class, the working poor, and the poor with them.

Oh, and they’re taking those Americans who have been completely duped by their message and their ideology with them, too.

Democrats Assail G.O.P. After Filibuster of Proposal to Raise Minimum Wage

Senator Charles E. Schumer, center, with Senator Harry Reid, second from left, spoke Wednesday about the minimum wage bill. Credit Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times
Senator Charles E. Schumer, center, with Senator Harry Reid, second from left, spoke Wednesday about the minimum wage bill. Credit Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

 

Let’s review the facts and the math.

  • The official poverty line for a family of 4 is $23,850.00
  • There are 2080 working hours in a 40hour/week year
  • If you can even find a 40-hour/week job paying $23,850 a year, your POVERTY hourly pay rate is $11.47/hour.

Poverty.

Not struggling-to-get-by. Not skipping-the-beach-this-year or eating-out-less scrimping and saving. Not we’ll-have-to-sell-the-vacation-home or skip-putting-the-pool-in-this-year. Not even the ol’ hamburger-instead-of-steak kind of “poor.”

We’re talking about real poverty at an hourly rate ABOVE what the GOP is already blocking.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

“In 2012, 75.3 million workers in the United States age 16 and over were paid at hourly rates, representing 59.0 percent of all wage and salary workers. Among those paid by the hour, 1.6 million earned exactly the prevailing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. About 2.0 million had wages below the federal minimum. Together, these 3.6 million workers with wages at or below the federal minimum made up 4.7 percent of all hourly paid workers.”

The GOP is blocking a pay increase for what amounts to about 5% of the hourly paid workers in America.

BTW, 49.4% of them are age 25 or older, so it’s not the conservative meme (lie) of just kids working part-time flipping burgers.

What are we to conclude? What does this bit of GOP obstructionism tell us? One of two things.

Either the 3.6million workers – only 4.7% of all hourly workers, after all – is such a small number of workers put at risk of losing their jobs due to an hourly minimum increase that it can’t possibly be worth doing because of the harm it could do to business
– or –
these people just don’t deserve to be paid more than $7.25/hour regardless of the job they have because “the market” has determined their worth, not to mention that business owners deserve to keep almost everything because, after all, employees like these are just raw materials to be used and replaced at the absolute lowest cost possible.

Both are extreme arguments, of course. Or are they?

Increasing the minimum wage will not cause all 3.6million workers to lose their jobs. I also don’t believe for one second that all business owners and every Republican are inhuman ogres who see people as raw materials.

What we should be is very clear about the facts, and we should not be afraid to talk about them as adults.

Raising the minimum wage does not kill jobs. Republicans repeat this over and over as a means for keeping their constituents – especially those they can manipulate more easily and who are outside the top 2% – misinformed, scared, and voting for them, of course.

Their strategy relies almost entirely on perpetuating the lie that is trickle-down economics.

So, there are 2 things I think we all need to be talking more openly and honestly about.

1. Not All Businesses Are a Business

If your business can’t afford to pay your workers a wage that is ABOVE the poverty line, you don’t have a business. Well, you might have a business technically, but your business plan sucks and you’re not really operating a business. You have either a hobby or fiefdom.

What you are NOT is a job creator. Paying someone so little that they remain poor and at least partially dependent on public assistance is not a job.

If the profit you generate from your business doesn’t allow you to pay your workers a true living wage after you’ve taken your wage out, then your business model needs serious reexamination. It might be a hobby.

If, on the other hand, you’re making millions and even billions like the Waltons, and you still refuse to pay a living wage, not only are you a “taker” for forcing the rest of us to subsidize your workers AND your profits, you are also an uncaring, unfeeling, and incredibly greedy and abusive human being. You need to reexamine your morals, your ethics, and your humanity. You’re just a greedy SOB, and you’re still NOT a job creator.

These things need to be said. There’s nothing admirable or respectable about the Walton family or people like them. They are the Robber Barons of the New Gilded Age.

2. What’s Wrong With Voters?

If you’re not in the top 2% of income earners making $250K or more per year regardless of what you do for a living and you’re still voting for Republicans, you’re only hurting yourself and your fellow middle class, working poor, and impoverished Americans.

There’s no other way to put it.

You are voting against your own economic self-interests and the economic self-interest of everyone but the very wealthy. It’s obvious. The GOP is the party of trickle-down economics, and trickle-down economics is undeniably one of the greatest lies ever perpetrated on the world. If you refuse to see the facts and reality of the last 30+ years, then you’re just being stubborn or obtuse.

And, we haven’t even gotten to tipped workers yet.

So, as of today, H.R. 1010, the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, has 196 cosponsors. They are all Democrats.

Where’s the debate?

We can punish Republicans in November, or we can keep punishing ourselves.

It’s a choice each of us gets to make come election time.

 

.@ChangeWalmart’s #SummerForRespect

Making Change at Walmart has created a summer program for students to do something about economic injustices, what Robert Reich calls, “the civil rights struggle of our time.”

Sign up is at http://makingchangeatwalmart.org/summer-for-respect/

Here’s what Reich posted about it to his Facebook page today

DEPARTMENT OF ACTIVISM. Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1964, students from around America traveled to Mississippi to participate in Mississippi Freedom Summer. Working hand-in-hand with civil rights organizations and African American residents of Mississippi, these students helped shine a spotlight on the deep injustices of Jim Crow. At the same time, they came to see the world with “Mississippi eyes,” deepening their own commitment to racial and economic justice in ways that would last a lifetime.

To mark the anniversary of Freedom Summer, students from around the country, working hand-in-hand with Walmart worker-leaders, will participate in an intensive summer of organizing Walmart workers. Economic injustice is as insidious as racial injustice, and giving low-wage workers bargaining power and a living wage is the civil rights struggle of our time. (Students will be paid a stipend for their participation as well as travel expenses. If you’re a student, or you know one who might be interested, please email organizing@columbia.edu with a CV and a short letter explaining your interest, with the subject line “Summer for Respect.” Letters of interest are due no later than May 2nd.

(https://www.facebook.com/RBReich/posts/785083828170882?fref=nf)

#Walmart Repeating Mistakes of History

OUR WalmartMy father told me stories about how the coal company his father worked for used intimidation and threats against his family and others.

I count that has living memory of those abuses against workers.

What I can’t believe now is that less than 100 years later everyone isn’t completely and totally behind Walmart employees who just want to be paid fairly and not be fired for wanting to organize.

Why is it so hard to learn from recent history, and how is that some of us in the middle class could possibly be rooting against these workers and taking the side of Walmart?

Feds Charge Walmart With Breaking Labor Law In Black Friday Strikes

 

Walmart’s attempt to repeat history may be more benign than forcing my grandmother to do all of her shopping at the Company Store, or Pinkerton guards shooting striking steelworkers, but it’s no less vile, reprehensible, nefarious, and damaging to America and to hard working people.

Here’s how they’re doing it now…

Here’s The Anti-Union Slideshow Wal-Mart Uses To Train Managers

Wal-Mart trains its managers to tell employees that unions are “a waste of money” and “want to hurt Walmart,” according to documents leaked by the online hacker group Anonymous and obtained by Occupy Wall Street.

Learn more about and follow the movement @ForRespect and @ChangeWalmart.

The Economics and Patriotism of Infrastructure Jobs Programs

Infrastructure map courtesy of The Atlantic

The Economics and Patriotism of Infrastructure Jobs Programs

America’s crumbling infrastructure is both a safety hazard and a drag on our economy that is projected to only get worse. If we’re going to tackle the really big challenges of government budgets, deficits, debts, and the economy, then every citizen must understand the realities of what a deteriorating infrastructure means to this country. We then need to demand that our elected leaders stand strong against austerity and, instead, do whatever it takes – including raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy – to improve our infrastructure.

Properly-funded federal and state infrastructure improvement jobs programs would produce immediate and lasting benefits, including but not limited to:

1) Putting large numbers of Americans back to work in good paying middle class jobs which would immediately boost the economy from the bottom up (since trickledown economics has proven to, once again, be an unmitigated and disastrous failure)

2) Making all of us safer and less vulnerable to infrastructure inefficiencies, failures, or acts of terrorism

3) Demonstrating to American companies and to the world a sense of patriotism that includes spending public funds on the infrastructure that is so vital to our economic and commercial success

Putting patriotism and safety issues aside for the moment (although I don’t know why we should), the sheer impact to our economy and our own selfish financial interests are at stake. This is usually motivation enough for most Americans to demand action from our politicians.

I think it ought to be more than just self interest. Americans have become the experts at professing their patriotism at every opportunity. We’re known the world over for our self-proclaimed exceptionalism. It’s why I believe that we ought to be thinking about and talking about funding the repair and expansion of our infrastructure as one of the most truly patriotic things we can do for ourselves and our country.

First, the economics. Math, after all, doesn’t require an emotional investment or belief system. It just is.

The Economics of Infrastructure

In his blog post, “Crumbling Infrastructure Has Real and Enduring Costs,” William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution points out that a study by the American Society of Civil Engineers projects that, “…by 2020, if the mounting investment gap in infrastructure is not addressed, ‘the economy is expected to lose almost $1 trillion in business sales, resulting in a loss of 3.5 million jobs . . . the cumulative cost to the U.S. economy will be more than $3.1 trillion in GDP and $1.1 trillion in total trade.'”

He also tells us that the Building America’s Future Educational Fund report reveals that a lack of a national infrastructure plan puts a serious drag on our economy. The example he cites is “…in 2010, Americans spent a total of 4.8 billion hours stuck in traffic, wasting 1.9 billion gallons of fuel, at a total cost of $101 billion.”

Let these numbers sink in.

$1 trillion – that’s a ‘1’ followed by 12 zeros; $1,000,000,000,000 – in LOST BUSINESS SALES and 3.5 million lost jobs in just 7 years.

$101,000,000,000 wasted sitting in traffic in just one year.

So in addition to patriotism and public safety, do we as Americans really want to waste greater and greater amounts of time, energy, and money sitting in traffic or waiting for delayed flights and trains?

Do you want to waste even more of it in the future?

Do you want American businesses to forego realizing ONE TRILLION DOLLARS in sales between now and 2020?

If not, then ask yourself how or why we ought to buy into Paul Ryan’s thinking that what’s needed most right now is greater austerity.

His budget – which unless I’ve missed it still seems to be the GOP’s position, too – proposes we spend $78 billion, or 25% less, on infrastructure than the White House’s proposed budget of $104 billion per year over the next decade. According to Galston and some think tanks, the White House’s budget is already less than one-half of what’s needed to repair our infrastructure, and yet Ryan would have us believe we need to spend even less.

How does that solve the problem? I simply cannot believe there’s that much waste and, true to form, Ryan still is unwilling or unable to offer any substantive details.

So as far as the economics go, one would think that numbers like the lost sales, lost jobs, trade imbalances, and lost productivity would be enough to rally the public *and* the business community to demand that something be done immediately to repair, improve, and expand our infrastructure. It’s not like there aren’t precedents to follow with proven outcomes. We – meaning the government hiring both workers and outside companies as contractors – have done big infrastructure projects before.

It took courageous leadership in government to get those projects moving. The private sector was and still is the beneficiary of that leadership. Where is it now?

No, You Didn’t Build That

With all due respect and admiration for the courage and creativity of entrepreneurs and captains of industry everywhere, I remind you that, “NO, YOU DID NOT BUILD THAT!”

You just get to benefit from it. The nation’s infrastructure is, without question or doubt, part of the reason for any commercial success and, hence, at least part of the resulting wealth that’s made possible in America for those who want to start, run, and work in the private sector. Trust me; I’m your fan and one of your biggest cheerleaders. I just think it’s time that you and your followers put your copy of Atlas Shrugged down and join the rest of us in the real world.

Business people everywhere – from the titans running multinational corporations to the small business owner on Main Street struggling to compete with Walmart – owe it to themselves and their self respect to please stop this self-indulgent and self-serving love affair with the Randian mythology. It’s tedious and tiresome and, truthfully, a complete fantasy. Where would you be if your workers quit tomorrow, and when was the last time you built a bridge, an airport, or an electrical power station?

To the business people busying themselves complaining endlessly about the government, please stop your childish whining and please start acting like real leaders. You can start by acknowledging that if you’re going to continue to benefit from everything a democratic society has to offer – including infrastructure – then you are going to have to pay for it. That’s how capitalism works, right? Payment for goods and services rendered?

Yes, I know that means higher taxes than the historically low taxes you pay now. The only sympathy you’re going to get are from fellow wealthy individuals and the people you’ve duped into believing in another fantasy – trickle-down economics.

Look, if your business cannot survive an increase in taxes and the closing of loopholes, well then maybe you’re not such a successful business person after all. Don’t feel bad. Lots of people have tried and failed more than once, including yours truly. It’s what makes me your cheerleader. I know how hard it is. We both know that there are no guarantees, but I will say this; never once did tax obligations figure into my thinking or have any impact on my results.

Real entrepreneurs don’t let things like taxes get in their way; they don’t use them as a lame excuse for not trying, nor are they the cause for why one tries and fails. Only someone who has never started a business would believe such a thing.

It’s only in bad novels by Russians with absolutely no economic credentials where real entrepreneurs give up and disappear because they were somehow defeated by government or society.

To the average citizens who rises in Randian defense of all things private and corporate, including infrastructure, I’d like to ask you a few questions.

How well do you feel you understand the profit motive and the demands it places on the business managers to maximize revenues and minimize expenses?

Have you really thought through what it would be like living in a country where every other river crossing or highway exit extracts a toll from us that goes only to a corporation and their shareholders?

If you have thought about it and you do want to see infrastructure privatized, then I would like to hear how and why you believe that the corporation collecting your tolls will forego maximizing profits and, instead, do what’s best for the nation and for the local community once they’ve built their monopolies modeled on Matty Moroun and his Ambassador Bridge?

It all comes down to money, of course, and, like it or not, it takes money to fund a democracy.

So here we are. We’ve arrived at a point in our political and societal evolution where, hyperbole and ignorance of the facts notwithstanding, American corporations, wealthy individuals, and their toadies in the GOP continue to foist upon us their strategy of fear, uncertainty, and doubt – along with unhealthy doses of outright lies – to keep us at bay and living in fear that they’ll abandon our shores if they can’t keep – and even reduce further – their already historically low tax obligations when they do pay any taxes at all. (Yes, I’m looking at you Mitt Romney, GE, and the rest of you uber-rich individuals and corporations paying very little taxes or actually getting tax refunds.)

The message from Big Money America and the GOP is clear: they are completely and utterly devoid of care or concern for this country and its citizens outside the now well-known 2%.

Where’s The Patriotism?

Galston reminds us that we’ve pulled together as a nation under both Democratic and Republican administrations before to do big infrastructure projects. We’ve done what’s been needed before. We can do it again.

A federal (and state) infrastructure program now would put lots of people to work. In addition to safer and more efficient infrastructure, big and bold new projects – hell, even repair and rehabilitation projects – would mean lots of decent paying middle class jobs for Americans. That is exactly what is needed right now to get the economy growing faster and better. What we don’t need and can’t afford is more austerity and more of our fellow citizens left with little choice or opportunity outside of working in retail or the fast food industry.

We need a sense of patriotism.

Federal infrastructure projects are patriotic and need to be talked about as patriotic. They are physical and enduring evidence of the love and devotion we should have to our country and to each other. Our society simply cannot operate without infrastructure, so programs to repair and improve it is service to our country, isn’t it?

Since the days of the Erie Canal, infrastructure projects have proven to deliver huge economic and societal benefits both at the time they are undertaken and for generations to come. We Americans need to remember this every time we merge onto an interstate, get on a train, board an airplane, turn on our lights, or buy bananas in January. None of that is possible without infrastructure, and that infrastructure was built by Americans for Americans.

Our roads, airports, railways, and sea ports have become too small, too old, and crumbling too quickly after decades of use for us to stand by and let it happen. They’re more and more unsafe and, for all the true capitalists out there, it’s a drag on our economic vitality and growth that will only get worse unless we do something about it.

And when it comes to defining what it means to be an American, letting our infrastructure deteriorate turns us into a second-rate first-world nation. It’s an embarrassment and a shame on all of us. We’re always making lots of noise about being number 1. I don’t know about you, but I never hear any Americans proudly proclaiming, “We’re #33!”

It’s time to show some real patriotism outside of military excursions. It’s time for Americans to rally together to demand that our elected officials put us to work fixing and rebuilding America’s infrastructure.

It’s good for us citizens. It’s good for business. It’s good for America.

Sounds like patriotism to me.

Sources:

(1) Galston, W. (2013, January 23). Crumbling Infrastructure Has Real and Enduring Costs. http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2013/01/23-crumbling-infrastructure-galston?cid=em_alert012813

(2) Plumer, B. (2012, March 30). What Paul Ryan’s budget actually cuts – and by how much. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/post/what-paul-ryans-budget-actually-cuts–and-by-how-much/2012/03/20/gIQAL43vPS_blog.html

(3) Berfield, S. (2012, May 3). Matty Mouron, Detroit’s Border Baron. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-05-03/matty-moroun-detroits-border-baron

Right To Work… for Less

For the record, I’ve spent most of my career in management. I have never belonged to a union.

I have, however, become a stronger and stronger supporter of organized labor the more I read and understand the facts about them and how the once mighty American middle class came into being, grew, and prospered primarily and almost exclusively because of organized labor.

We must be clear on facts.

The rise and prosperity of the American middle class had precisely nothing to do with any generosity or leadership principles of management. Without the labor movement, there would have been no middle class because there would have been nothing in it for management and the shareholders to pay workers decent wages, provide for safe working conditions, and for companies to have to negotiate some portion of the wealth generated to be shared back with the workers that made goods and delivered services.

The worker-management relationship is symbiotic, but the movement in this country was been away from organized labor for decades. Many would trace it back to Reagan and his treatment of the air traffic controllers.

Regardless of when it began, the so-called “righ to work” laws are nothing more than well-crafted marketing by Big Money and their puppets in state legislations. It is designed to dupe Americans into believing that such laws – presumably to give workers the “freedom” or “right to work” without paying union dues in unionized shops – is what’s best for both companies and workers.

That’s absurd. Why should on employee be allowed to benefit from collective bargaining done by his/her co-workers and yet not have to be required to pay their dues to fund the organization that handles the collective bargaining on behalf of all workers. How is that fair?

Right-to-work laws are terrible for the middle class. The only jobs they are likely to create will be those that are lower paying with fewer hours and fewer benefits. They will not be the kind of middle class jobs on which anyone can live or raise a family.

Ask any Walmart worker.