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The Bare Minimum

American workers

Since 1894, Labor Day has been officially celebrated as a day to honor workers. It’s a time to reflect on the contributions of working men and women across America. But the Republicans in Congress likely will pay little or no heed to the people most responsible for making the wheels turn in our society. Why should they on this day, when they’ve ignored the pitifully low wages of the masses since last year?

The bad news bears

The big majority of people in this country – 73 percent, according to a poll – want an increase in the minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. Fat chance the fat cats will grant them their wish. Efforts by the Obama administration to hike the wage to $10.10 have been stonewalled by conservative politicians who pay obeisance to the well-heeled heels who scorn the poor with a “Let them eat bread” attitude and come up with every reason they can concoct why such a move would harm the economy.

Inflation makes minimum even worse

Thomas Perez

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez

The result of this callousness toward those on incomes that afford little more than subsistence living is wages that have eroded as inflation increased. The minimum wage’s “purchasing power has declined by one-third since the 1960s,” U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said, “and it’s worth less today than it was in 1981. Bus fare has certainly gone up since 1981. Same with the price of a dozen eggs, or a week of child care. Landlords aren’t sending out rent decreases.”

The haves and the have nots

FIU Professor Ali Bustamante

Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would affect the lives of 28 million people, including 1.73 million residents in my state of Florida, where, at $7.93, the state mandated hourly wage is actually 9 percent higher than the national wage. But even in Florida, the wage gap between educated professionals and low-wage workers has steadily widened over the past three-plus decades, a report by Florida International University in Miami shows. Pay for the top quarter of workers has risen 47 percent, while the bottom quarter’s has increased only 14 percent. Ali Bustamante, the study’s author, said the obvious: “A growing gap between high and low-wage earners means that Florida’s workers are increasingly living in separate worlds. There is a privileged class that is primarily white, male and native citizens.” The phenomenon reveals the contrast between reality and the lovely picture of the state’s economy drawn by Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for re-election, the Palm Beach Post pointed out. Unemployment is down, as it is in the rest of the country, but so are the inflation-adjusted wages.

Obama calling for a higher minimum wage

President Obama asked Congress last year to hike the minimum wage, an exercise in futility, given the House’s domination by worshippers of the moneyed class. But, Labor Secretary Perez said, there are indications that concerned business leaders, and state and local governments are taking measures to bypass the least productive Congress in the history of the United States. Over the last year-and-a-half, 13 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws increasing minimum wages, which will benefit more than 7 million workers.

Doing what’s necessary

Perez said some employers, large and small, were raising the minimum wages of their employees without a government decree. He highlighted Costo, The Gap and Ace Hardware, and said management’s motivation was partly that higher morale and productivity resulted. The belief among many employers, Perez said, is that people who make or sell a company’s products should make enough money to buy them, which in turn will redound to the company’s bottom line. Workers with money to spend pump it back into the economy, he said.

In the face of Congress’ refusal to act, Obama has done what he can under his legal authority in raising the minimum wage for employees of companies with federal contracts to $10.10.

Perez called for honoring working men and women who “contribute to the strength and prosperity of our nation … in a real and meaningful way” by giving them a raise.

There’s another way in which the American people, including the workers themselves, can help their plight: Come Nov. 4, vote the obstructionist Republicans out of office.

#ThomasPerez #AliBustamante #FloridaInternationalUniversity #TheGap #AceHardware #Costco

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