For years which have become decades, Democratic candidates have run on improving working conditions for all Americans, starting with better pay. All we have to do, they’ve told us, is elect them. But when we have, one of two things always happens:
- Nothing, or
- Far too little, much too late.
A couple of examples:
In 2009, the Obama administration increased the federal minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. In real, cost-of-living-adjusted dollars, that is less than 50 cents above the value of the 1955 minimum wage of 75 cents per hour. Today’s $7.25, in real dollars, is just $4.87. That’s only 48 cents higher than its real value nearly 60 years ago.
Like I said: Far too little, much too late.
It gets worse. Despite trumpeting his requirement that workers on new federal contracts be paid a minimum of $10.10 per hour, Obama was more muted about the change not taking effect until 2015 – a year before a new administration takes over and, very probably, rolls it back.
Worse still: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, both these rates are anywhere from $15 to $20 per hour LESS than what is necessary to meet workers’ basic needs.
The GOOD news?? Americans are taking the issue to their local governments – and getting results.
In San Francisco, San Jose, Sea-Tac, Maryland, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque, local governments have enacted Living Wage requirements well above the federal minimum wage. In every case, the changes have come thanks to citizen pressure, which is continuing to expand across the country. Socialist Kshama Sawant’s successful campaign for Seattle City Council was fueled largely by her “15now” campaign, which demands that Seattle join with the neighboring city of Sea-Tac in setting a living wage at $15 per hour.
Last month, activists in Minnesota adopted an open letter calling out Democrat Governor Mark Dayton and his legislative super-majority for running on the promise of a Living Wage, then turning around and proposing only $9.25 per hour. Their movement is growing, and a forum to push the issue further is being sponsored this weekend by “Building Progressive Power,” “Uniting People” and more than 15 other organizations – including the New Progressive Alliance. If you’re in the Twin Cities, check it out this Saturday, February 15, 2014, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 4200 Cedar Lane, Minneapolis. You can also follow the proceedings via live stream at the NPA website that day.
Join the Living Wage Movement!
To help you take the battle to your local and state officials, here’s a fact-filled letter to organize around. Feel free to copy and tailor it to fit your local situation. Then, host your own forum and rally your fellow activists for support, signatures, and peaceful protest.
TO: (Local government officials and/or body name)
FROM: Your constituents
RE: LIVING WAGE
Enough! We are fed up!
For too many years, low-wage workers have borne the brunt of income inequality. This issue is finally receiving the attention it has long deserved, and as elected officials, it is YOUR responsibility to address it.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has a real dollar value of $4.87! We, the undersigned, sincerely ask: Could YOU live on that?
We didn’t think so. Neither can we.
Across the nation, a groundswell of support is growing for wages based on the real cost of living.
For a Living Wage to have real meaning for working men and women, we must begin with a realistic dollar amount. U.S. Census data suggest at least $15 per hour; the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) puts the number between $22 and $26.
We, your constituents, urge you to study this issue in depth and to take action designed to improve the standard of living for our hardest-working citizens. Take their testimony; their stories will shock you. People are routinely working two and three jobs – anywhere from 60 to 80 (or more) hours per week – just to make ends meet. And YOU can change that!
Remember too: Business owners have a vested interest in keeping wages low. They’ve done so successfully for years, a fact to which Pope Francis recently alluded: “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.”
Francis echoed sentiments set down more than 200 years ago by Adam Smith, in his landmark The Wealth of Nations: “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe, and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed and lodged.”
We are asking that you systemically address, here in (name of county, city, state), income inequality. Enact a Living Wage, one which ensures people working full-time hours receive compensation sufficient to feed, clothe, house, and care for themselves and their families. Make it subject to regular adjustment based on the BLS’s Consumer Price Index, widely regarded as our most accurate cost-of-living indicator.
As our elected officials, you hold a responsibility to hear and address the public’s valid concerns. We, your constituents, can think of no more basic nor valid an issue than ensuring that working men and women earn a wage which enables them to fully participate in society.
A Living Wage is what justice requires. We, the undersigned, will accept nothing less.
Photo by Mikasi released under a Creative Commons license.