Thursday, March 14, 2013

Shouldn't We All Want To See The Whole Country Getting A Livable Wage?


Andy Hounshell welcomes Obama to Cincinnati

This week I spoke with Andy Hounshell, the Ohio steelworker who was shocked enough by seeing there was no candidate running against Boehner in 2012 to jump into the race himself for 2014. We talked about a wide range of subjects and we'll be highlighting them here at DWT in the coming weeks. When I asked him about what political leaders he most admires, he talked about how inspiring the Grayson-Takano No-Cuts letter was to him and then immediately pivoted back to his home state. He admires the work Tim Ryan has been doing for working families but the Ohio political leader he kept talking about is the state's senior senator, Sherrod Brown, one of the foremost fighters for working families in Congress. "When it comes to helping people understand the benefits of Fair Trade over the inequities of so-called 'Free Trade,'" Hounshell told me, "Sherrod has been the gold standard, not just here in Ohio, but across the country... And no one speaks with more authenticity about livable wages for working families than our own senator." Hounshell gave me a letter from Brown urging grassroots supporters to let Members of Congress know how important increasing the minimum wage is to them.
A worker making today's federal minimum wage earns $7.25 an hour. That shakes out to $14,500 a year.

Too many families cannot make ends meet on that wage. And for a family of four with a minimum wage worker, that's below the poverty line.

The minimum wage in this country should be a livable wage. The last time Congress changed the federal minimum wage was in 2007. It's time we give these people a raise.

Join me in telling Congress: It's time to raise the minimum wage. Sign our open letter today.

Around 30 million people in this country earn minimum wage at their jobs. These are hard working people who bring in the same paycheck year after year, while the prices of the things they need to live-- milk and bread, gas and school tuition-- go up.

Ohio and a few other states already have slightly higher rates, and raising the federal minimum wage is a good, common-sense idea. The more money in peoples' pockets, the more they'll spend. And a recent poll showed that the American people overwhelmingly agree: 71% were found to be in favor.

Raising the minimum wage is fair for workers, fair for families, and good for our economy. And I need your help getting that message across to Congress.
That reminded me to go back to Joshua Holland's book, The Fifteen Biggest Lies About The Economy and a subchapter about the livable wage, something that has seriously eroded in the past few decades, and continues eroding today-- despite a Democratic president and occasional Democratic majorities in Congress. Hounshell is vice president of the International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) Local Lodge 1943, representing over 1600 members, at AK Steel Middletown Works. It was when he "got" the connection with unions and economic justice that he gave up the last vestiges of the Republican Party nostrums he learned as a child and started thinking the whole package through for himself. Holland:
In 2008, the New York Times reported that the number of Americans making $20 per hour or more, or its equivalent when adjusted for inflation, has declined dramatically since the 1970s.

The $20 hourly wage, introduced on a huge scale in the middle of the last century, allowed masses of Americans with no more than a high school education to rise to the middle class. It was a marker, of sorts, but it is becoming extinct.

Americans greeted the loss with anger and protest when it first began to happen in big numbers in the late 1970s, particularly in the steel industry in western Pennsylvania. But as layoffs persisted, in Pennsylvania and across the country, through the ’80s and ’90s and right up to today, the protests subsided and acquiescence set in.

The equivalent of a $20-plus wage in today’s dollars reached around a quarter of the nonmanagerial workforce in 1979. Since then, however, “the percentage of people earning at least $20 an hour has eroded in every sector of the economy,” falling last year to 18 percent of all hourly workers. The Times called it “a gradual unwinding of the post–World War II gains.”

The trend corresponds with the decline of union membership among private sector workers. During World War II, more than a third of U.S. wage earners belonged to labor unions. By 1973, that number had gradually declined to 24 percent. The percentage hovered in the 20s until 1980, when Ronald Reagan came to office and brought about an unprecedented shift in U.S. labor relations. As Viveca Novak, writing in Common Cause magazine a decade later, would put it:
When President Ronald Reagan fired the federal air traffic controllers en masse in 1981, he rewrote the rules governing acceptable employer conduct. Previously companies had considered public opinion in deciding how far to push the weak labor law; now that was less of an obstacle. Reagan’s appointments to the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] sent another signal, challenging a tradition of long-serving, usually non-ideological members. The board took on a distinctly anti-union aura and let cases sit for years without decisions.
What followed was a rapid decline in the share of unionized workers in the United States. By the end of Reagan’s first term in office, the unionization rate in the private sector had fallen to 15 percent; by the end of his second, it had fallen to about 12 percent; and by 2009, only 7.2 percent of private-sector workers belonged to a union.

Membership in a labor union carries with it what economists refer to as a “union wage premium”: the persistent gap between what union and nonunion workers earn at the same job. Organized workers make 11.3 percent more than those who aren’t in a union (and it was much higher when labor had more clout; economist George Johnson estimated that union workers in the 1930s earned 38 percent more, on average, than their nonunion counterparts).

The $20 wage, or its equivalent at the time, “blossomed first in the auto industry in 1948 and served, in effect, as a banner in the ideological struggle with the Soviet Union,” according to the Times. “As the news media frequently noted, salt-of-the-earth American workers were earning enough to pay for comforts that their counterparts behind the Iron Curtain could not afford.”

Skip forward to today, and it’s pretty clear that the decline is continuing. In 2007, the Big Three automakers bought out eighty-thousand employees earning more than $20 an hour, “replacing many with new hires tied to a ‘second tier’ wage scale that never quite reaches $20.” A year later, they bought out another twenty-five thousand.

As we’ll see in the next chapter, only organized workers negotiating from strength can bring a decent, livable wage back for the majority of Americans who lack a college degree.

If you'd like to help beat Boehner and elect Andy Hounshell to represent western Ohio, you can do that here.

Meanwhile, I just wanted to say one more thing tonight about the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget-- the Back to Work Budget-- which isn't getting the kind of attention the ridiculous, purely ideological Ryan budget is getting from the media. Why people take that silly thing seriously is beyond me but... that's the Beltway Media herd. I often hear people say that Ezra Klein is just an Obamabot spouting the company line. But that isn't how I see it. He frequently surprises me with a willingness to see beyond the White House's twisted talking point. And today he was one of the few "serious" Beltway journalists to recognize that the Back to Work Budget is the budget the country should be talking about, rather than the silly, partisan, "fantasyland" efforts by Ryan or the Senate Democrats. Ezra:
The correct counterpart to the unbridled ambition of the Ryan budget isn’t the cautious plan released by the Senate Democrats. It’s the “Back to Work” budget released by the House Progressives.

The “Back to Work” budget is about exactly what the name implies: Putting Americans back to work. The first sentence lays it out clearly: “We’re in a jobs crisis that isn’t going away.” So that’s the budget’s top priority: fixing the jobs crisis.

It begins with a stimulus program that makes the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act look tepid: $2.1 trillion in stimulus and investment from 2013-2015, including a $425 billion infrastructure program, a $340 billion middle-class tax cut, a $450 billion public-works initiative, and $179 billion in state and local aid.

That’s…a lot of stimulus. More than Congress passed in 2009, in fact. The liberal Economic Policy Institute estimates that would be sufficient to “boost gross domestic product (GDP) by 5.7 percent and employment by 6.9 million jobs at its peak level of effectiveness (within one year of implementation).
Jamelle Bouie also has a smart column in today's Washington Post about the relative merits of the 4 proposed budgets-- Ryan's the Senate Dem's, Obama's and the Progressive Caucus'. And, like Ezra, he recognizes that the Back to Work Budget is the only serious one in town. I want to get into that one more fully over the weekend.

UPDATE: House Votes Down Minimum Wage Increase

Every single Republican and 6 of the worst right-wing Democrats just voted down a proposal-- in the form of a Motion to Recommit by Rep. George Miller (D-CA)-- to increase the minimum wage to $10.10/hour. The 6 "Democrats" who crossed the aisle and voted with Boehner and Cantor on this should come as no surprise:
John Barrow (Blue Dog/New Dem-GA)
Jim Matheson (Blue Dog-UT)
Mike McIntyre (Blue Dog/New Dem-NC)
Bill Owens (New Dem-NY)
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)
Kurt Shrader (Blue Dog-New Dem-OR)
These half dozen right-wing white men have something else in common besides their contempt for working families. Steve Israel has decided to spend the bulk of the money anyone contributes to the DCCC to reelect them, leaving progressives running for Congress with no financial support. Remember that the next time the DCCC comes asking you for money to defeat the Republicans. The money you give goes to reelect Democrats who support the Republicans.

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