12.03.2006

record

A dubious record was set in the US yesterday.
On Dec. 2, [the US will] break the record for the longest period without a raise since the minimum wage was established in 1938. The prior record of nine years and three months lasted from Jan. 1, 1981 until the minimum wage increase on Apr. 1, 1990.

Murray Weidenbaum, chairman of President Reagan's first Council of Economic Advisers, has acknowledged they wanted to eliminate the minimum wage. But as the Wall Street Journal reported, "Because that would have been such a 'painful political process,' Mr. Weidenbaum says that he and other officials were content to let inflation turn the minimum wage into 'an effective dead letter.'"

Today's minimum wage [$5.15] is less than the 1950 minimum of $6.28, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator. It takes nearly two workers to match the $9.28 buying power of one minimum wage worker in 1968.

. . . .

Democrats promise to pass a minimum wage hike in the first 100 hours of the new Congress. The long-delayed Fair Minimum Wage Act would raise the minimum wage in three steps to $5.85, 60 days after enactment, $6.55 one year later in 2008, and $7.25 one year later in 2009.

These are steps in the right direction for workers for whom every dollar counts in the struggle to make ends meet. But workers should not have to wait until 2009 for a $7.25 minimum wage that only partly restores buying power lost since 1968.

The Economic Policy Institute reports, "Most other developed countries either have implemented automatic increases based on rising prices or require regular meetings of boards authorized to increase the minimum wage" based on factors such as rising prices and economic growth.

Ireland and England have minimum wages over $10, calculated in U.S. dollars. Both countries have strong economies with lower unemployment rates in recent years than the United States.

Congress has had eight pay raises since 1997 and is scheduled for a $3,300 "cost of living adjustment," raising congressional pay on Jan. 1 to $168,500 -- not counting health coverage, pensions and other benefits. [Emphasis mine.]

Congress should refuse pay increases until the minimum wage is raised enough to keep workers out of poverty instead of in poverty.
Read more here, and see author Holly Sklar's website Let Justice Roll.

Here is the minimum wage in Canada, by province.

21 comments:

James said...

How is it that anyone still gets away with the "raising the minimum wage will hurt the economy" canard? Surely we have enough stats to bury that one by now?

L-girl said...

But without that, after Congress did corporate America's bidding, how would they explain it to the voters?

Scott M. said...

To be fair, there *is* a reasonable argument that raising the minimum wage too high would hurt the economy. A perfectly valid, widely accepted argument.

It's a nuance. And that's the problem.

Whenever I read news stories from the US, all I hear about are extremes. You're either for or against something. If you voted for a bill, then voted against the amended bill you are evil and flip-flopped. No one ever looks into the reasons why someone changed their vote.

In this land of extremes, I understand why politicians would shy away from a debate of nuances. Bringing up the minimum wage to $7 most decidedly will not put the economy into a tailspin unless it was already headed there. But in a land of superlatives, any change would be seen as anti-business.

Perhaps I'm in the minority here, but I genuinely feel sorry for US politicians. It must be an awful job. I most certainly do not begrudge them a good pay and benefits, nor do I think that there's any logic in linking the pay of that job to hikes in minimum wage. That kind of thing is just pandering. Minimum wage issues need to be dealt with as a serious policy issue by these folks, but it should not be related to their compensation. Would those asking for a link between minimum wage increases and pay increases for politicians support denying them healthcare until there's a universal healthcare plan? Would they let their god-like idol, whoever the president is at the time, succumb to a minor heart attack because he couldn't get agreement on Medicaid?

... As an aside, why is this done at a Federal level anyway? Isn't there a huge disparity in cost of living across the States?

James said...

Whenever I read news stories from the US, all I hear about are extremes. You're either for or against something. If you voted for a bill, then voted against the amended bill you are evil and flip-flopped. No one ever looks into the reasons why someone changed their vote.

I've always found the US fondness for attaching unrelated last-minute amendments to bills rather baffling.

One of the greatest (or, at least, my favourite) bits in the Simpsons covers this in the episode "Bart's Comet":

Speaker: Then it is unanimous, we are going to approve the bill to evacuate the town of Springfield in the great state of --
Congressman: Wait a minute, I want to tack on a rider to that bill: $30 million of taxpayer money to support the perverted arts.
Speaker: All in favor of the amended Springfield-slash-pervert bill?
[everyone boos]
Speaker: Bill defeated. [bangs gavel]
Kent: I've said it before and I'll say it again: democracy simply doesn't work.

L-girl said...

As an aside, why is this done at a Federal level anyway? Isn't there a huge disparity in cost of living across the States?

If minimum wage and other protecitons were not mandated on the federal level in the US, many/most states wouldn't have any.

50 states vs 10 provinces is a very different picture. Progressive people want states to have less control and more laws to be federal. "States rights" (confusingly called federalism in the US) is generally a conservative, regressive philosophy.

L-girl said...

To be fair, there *is* a reasonable argument that raising the minimum wage too high would hurt the economy.

I hope the operative words there are "too high". There's no reasonable argument for keeping the minimum wage below poverty level.

L-girl said...

Perhaps I'm in the minority here, but I genuinely feel sorry for US politicians.

Scott, you are usually such a thoughtful and intelligent commenter that this comment leaves me baffled.

The reason the writer brought up the legislators' compensation is to show that they themselves are well compensated, but are denying the American worker even the slightest raise. It's not pandering - it's a logical and persuasive case.

No one is suggesting removing lawmakers' health benefits. The writer is pointing out a gross disparity between the people who make the law and the people forced to live under it.

Scott M. said...

Indeed, the operative words were *too high*. I don't in any way think that raising the minimum wage to $7 would classify as too high. They most certainly should do that.

The pity for the legislators is a separate thought from the desire to have minimum wage raised.

As far as linking the wages of the lawmakers to the minimum wage earners, I do think it's unfair. The public responsibility these people have should be well compensated. Their job has changed and the nastiness of their job has increased substantially over the years and they should be suitably paid. It is a particular job and it has a particular description with particular pay.

Minimum wage, on the other hand, is a policy issue. I agree that a livable minimum wage is vitally important and should be mandated, but it is not as simple as gauging the cost/benefit of a particular position.

I'm one of the (few?) people who feel that politicians, at least in Canada, are underpaid for their work. I can judge that fairly by my in-depth understanding of what they do. It is considerably harder to judge the value of all of the positions that minimum wage workers hold. Again, I support a raise, but it's a lot more complex issue.

Should it be the responsibility of the employer to pay a living wage? Or should the government have a guaranteed income where they will top-up progressively and provide incentive for people to work? These are valid debate points.

I am one of the (few?) people who think that the vast majority of politicians genuinely care for their constituents and want what is best for their riding, understanding that there are always trade offs.

Most politicians do not stand up high on ivory towers without any connection to the "little folks". Many politicians are sensitive to the needs of people in poverty.

I recognize that no one is suggesting removing lawmakers' health benefits in the States. That was simply a parallel between national policy and the recompense of a politician’s job. It makes my point -- it doesn't make sense to connect the everyday lives of politicians to their policy.

Unless, of course, one believes that politicians are only self-serving. I refuse to believe that.

Call me naive.

L-girl said...

Most politicians do not stand up high on ivory towers without any connection to the "little folks". Many politicians are sensitive to the needs of people in poverty.

I won't call you naive, but I will say you must not be familiar with how politics works in the US.

Most - certainly not all, but enough to tip the balance - elected officials in the US are beholden to the people who pay their campaign bills, not to the voters, and certainly not to the working poor. They do what their corporate masters want them to. If they are sensitive to the needs of people in poverty, their voting does not reflect that, so their sensitivity is meaningless.

Your characterizations of elected officials may be very accurate - for Canada. I couldn't say. But it's utterly wrong about the US.

Scott M. said...

Indeed, much of my experience comes from my dealings with provincial and federal politicians in Canada. I have honestly never met a self-serving politician in Canadian politics. I disagree on many of their policies, and some politicians have been truly unpleasant to me, but they all honestly believe they are doing the best for the country.

It's because of that experience that it's truly difficult to understand that there may be a majority of politicians who are more concerned with rewarding contributors than doing what's best. What's the incentive for going into politics if not being driven by a sense of patriotism that means you want to better the society you're living in?? Seriously?

Is it just a case that they go in for the right reasons and get corrupted?

Would the US be amenable to the solution of having parties funded by the taxpayer in a way similar to the Canadian federal government? If not, do you forsee a way change could ever happen?

L-girl said...

What's the incentive for going into politics if not being driven by a sense of patriotism that means you want to better the society you're living in??

I know you're serious, but regarding the US system, it's hard to take this at all seriously. It's hilarious, or heartbreaking.

Is it just a case that they go in for the right reasons and get corrupted?

I think that happens to many people, yes. But I also think many people go into politics because they want power and status. They like the political fray, the dealmaking and horse-trading and back-stabbing, a lot more than they like getting anything done. They don't give a shit about improving anyone's lives, and they have no intentions of trying to do so.

In my opinion, people who want to better society in the US don't (and shouldn't) go into politics. They should form or get involved in nonprofits that work for change.

Many times on this blog, as you may have read, I express amazement at how much positive change has been accomplished in Canada from within the political system - Tommy Douglas, Pierre Trudeau, to use two huge examples.

By contrast, positive change in the US is generally accomplished by people's movements. Only when it is politically safe to do so, do elected officials come along, sponsor a bill, and take the credit.

One huge example of this would be JFK being hailed as the "civil rights president" - when in reality he first ignored the civil rights movement, then fought it with everything he had in him, then when there was simply no choice (and after JFK was gone), Johnson stepped in and signed the Civil Rights Act. But people did the work - people whose leaders were hounded by the FBI and CIA, and who were branded public enemies. Until 25, 30 years later when they were called heroes.

Would the US be amenable to the solution of having parties funded by the taxpayer in a way similar to the Canadian federal government? If not, do you forsee a way change could ever happen?

So far all meaningful attempts at campaign financing reform have failed, because the sick patient is being asked to diagnose and treat itself, and it can't and won't.

How change can ever happen...? Last time you asked me that, I said: revolution. You might have thought I was joking.

L-girl said...

I should add that this is more true on the state and national level than on the local level. A lot of good people get involved in local politics, and stay local, and stay honest, hard-working and committed to their constituents.

Also - I hope I don't need to add - that I'm not saying everyone on the state and national level is corrupt and self-serving. Just the large majority.

James said...

Most - certainly not all, but enough to tip the balance - elected officials in the US are beholden to the people who pay their campaign bills, not to the voters, and certainly not to the working poor.

There's also a huge problem with economic ignorance among legislators. I remember a story of an early-90s Republican congressman who made a big deal of how he stands up for the middle class -- even though his voting pattern was definitely skewed towards the rich.

Finally, someone asked him just who he considered "middle class". He answered, "You know, people who make around $200,000 - $300,000".

The reporter was a little taken aback. "What about people who make $30,000?"

The congressman responded, "No-one makes only $30,000!"

I can't remember which congressman that was, though. Don't know if he's still in power, but plenty of people like him are.

L-girl said...

He answered, "You know, people who make around $200,000 - $300,000".

The reporter was a little taken aback. "What about people who make $30,000?"

The congressman responded, "No-one makes only $30,000!"


That is so sad (and enraging). Could anything speak more eloquently to the total disconnect between the people who make the laws and the people who must live with them?

James said...

Could anything speak more eloquently to the total disconnect between the people who make the laws and the people who must live with them?

How can you trust someone with so skewed a view of the world to make a sensible decision about minimum wage? He must know what minimum wage is, yet he can't put 2 & 2 together to get less than $200,000.

My rich uncle, whom my mother describes as "to the right of Atilla the Hun", used to be the same way. One day they were arguing about a teacher's strike, and my uncle said that the teachers were just being greedy. My mother asked what he thought she, a high-school art teacher, made in salary. He replied, "Oh, I don't know, $150,000?"

L-girl said...

"Oh, I don't know, $150,000?"

Oy.

to the right of Atilla the Hun

I use nearly the same expression, only I substitute Genghis Khan. :-)

impudent strumpet said...

"States rights" (confusingly called federalism in the US)...

THAT'S what federalism means?? **boggles** I'm glad you mentioned that before I found reason to publically comment on something that casually used the word federalism in a US context!

James said...

I don't know if this has been mentioned before, but here is a useful tool for putting your income into perspective. It puts me as the 48,868,458th richest person in the world. Which doesn't sound that impressive, but of course that I'm in the top 0.81% (not 81%, as the NY Times misrepresented the site in a recent article, but 0.81% -- 99.19% of the world earns less than I do).

According to the site, someone making $15,000 US would be in the top 12.23%. About half the world makes $900 US or less a year.

L-girl said...

THAT'S what federalism means?? **boggles**

Yeah, crazy, ain't it? This is Wikipedia's explanation, although it's not very good.

Whenever I read/hear anything about Quebec separatism vs federalism, it takes me a moment to readjust the meaning of that word. Same thing with the blue/red colours of the parties, although that's easier, because it's not so overused in Canada as it is in the US.

L-girl said...

James, thanks for that. It's sobering, to say the least.

According to the site, someone making $15,000 US would be in the top 12.23%. About half the world makes $900 US or less a year.

While this is true, I find it more useful (and more fair) to compare like with like - to compare the incomes of people who live in first-world countries with others who also do.

Adults who make $15,000/yr in the US are poor by US standards. Perhaps they'd be rich in Rwanda, but they don't live in Rwanda. They have to pay rent, and buy food, fuel, and clothes in the US, with US prices.

As I'm sure you know, the income disparity in the US has been growing sharply since Reagan was first elected.

Ah well, let them eat cake, eh.

Scott M. said...

It's not unusual for people to be confused about Quebec "Nationalism", not recognizing that they are separatists, not federalists.

Ah, verbiage.