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How the Potency of Social Wages Can Beat Back Neoliberalism

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Jack Metzgar – LAWCHA

At the core of President Biden’s American Families Plan is an understanding that workers are paid too little in market wages and that government has a responsibility to change that.

If President Biden’s American Families Plan becomes law as he proposed it, my grand-niece Harri will finally have a ?“modest yet adequate” standard of living based on a new commitment from the federal government to provide social wages.

Harri is a 30-year-old single mother of two, one 3?year-old and one in school. As an assistant manager at Walmart, she makes about $47,000 a year, but about $8,000 of that goes for day care for her preschooler. She recently started getting $550 a month in a Child Tax Credit (CTC), but that’s just a temporary boost for the next year that was part of the Democrats’ March stimulus package. If the Families Plan?—?part of what Biden describes as ?“human infrastructure”?—?becomes law, she’ll get that CTC money for another five years and her preschooler will get free pre?K public education, freeing Harri from paying for day care.

Add it all up, and Harri’s income will be topped up by $6,600 and she’ll be saving $8,000 a year on day-care costs. She’ll go from having $47,000 a year in reported income to having $53,600, but with the absence of day-care costs, her real spending income will be enhanced by $14,600, a 37% increase. Where she lives, in central Pennsylvania, the Economic Policy Institute figures that with no child care costs, she would need about $49,000 to have a modest yet adequate standard of living. Harri will have a little more than that. Bringing in $53,600 will not provide her with a life of luxury, but the magnitude of that change should be transformative for Harri and her children. Harri will get more than parents with fewer kids or fewer pre-schoolers, but she’ll get less than parents with more kids or more than one preschooler. 

The point is that the combination of the CTC and public pre?K (plus an additional program where parents of one- and two-year-olds will pay no more than 7% of their income for day care) will make a dramatic difference in most parents’ and children’s lives. It is often said that the CTC by itself will cut child poverty in half. But the whole combination will do much more than that for many more families, including those who are not poor but struggle to get by.

Beyond its variety of impacts on different American families, Biden’s Families Plan is a breakthrough commitment to the concept of social wages, a concept that has even wider application. Along with other Biden initiatives, there appears to be a firm Democratic recognition that most workers are paid too little in market wages to get by and that the government has a responsibility to change that.

Social wages are different from the commonly (and loosely) used phrase ?“social safety net.” Safety-net programs, like unemployment compensation and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, are for people who have fallen on hard times for one reason or another. Like a net, they keep people from falling farther by providing temporary income until they can get back on their feet. 

Social wages, on the other hand, are more permanent, less means-tested, and available for much larger groups of people. They either subsidize essential workers by increasing their pay or reduce costs of common goods and services. Among Biden’s various plans, for example, are wage subsidies for home care and day care workers who now average $23,000 and $22,000 a year respectively. Obamacare subsidies and the Earned Income Tax Credit do this for a broader group of low-wage workers. Many cities with strong labor movements, like New York, have long had reduced transit fares and rent control to keep costs affordable for low- and moderate-wage workers, though better-paid workers benefit as well. In the postwar years, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union established cooperative housing and even a non-profit bank to reduce their members’ and other workers’ cost of living.

Increased income or reduced costs increase human freedom by providing a higher standard of living that gives people the chance to choose how to spend money, not just struggle to pay the bills. Harri should have nearly $4,000 in discretionary income if the Families Plan becomes law, something she has never had before. Disposable income is your income after taxes, and almost everybody has some. Discretionary income is the income you have left after all your ordinary expenses are met, the money you can actually choose how to spend. It’s anything over that modest yet adequate amount that the Economic Policy Institute has estimated for your family in the place you live.

Biden’s Families plan will affect my niece’s family and its prospects much more than it will for many other families. A family with one school-age child, for example, will get only $250 a month with the CTC and no savings for child care. Or, a single mother with two children, like Harri, will get the same amount in CTC and in child-care savings, but because she earns only $20,000, she’ll end up with a mere $26,600 and free day care?—?no longer in official poverty but still a long way from a modest but adequate income.

But the concept of social wages is just as important as the specific result of any particular program. It means that the federal government accepts its responsibility to make sure that ?“nobody who works full time should live in poverty.” It also represents the transfer of money from our super-wealthy to workers who make less than a modest but adequate living. Biden proposes to pay for his plans with increased taxes on corporations and on individuals who earn more than $400,000 a year?—?though it would be even fairer if the Walton family had to pay Elizabeth Warren’s proposed wealth tax on their $247 billion in wealth since Harri and her co-workers helped produce some of that.

I’m as surprised as anyone at how sweepingly progressive Biden’s initiatives are, but none of them came full-blown from the head of Biden. They are all programs that have been developed and advocated for by progressive activists and academics in opposition to a seemingly impregnable public commitment to neoliberalism?—?all that movement and electoral politics of the past several decades, all those Fight for $15 actions and the doors Berniecrats knocked on.

As an academic, I am especially inspired by the intellectual work that contributed to this process. Efforts to establish ?“modest but adequate” levels of family income, for example, had begun in the postwar period by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics?—?at a time when unions represented one of every three workers and that Henry Wallace aspirationally dubbed ?“the century of the common man.” That statistical series was ended in the early years of the Reagan administration, signifying that the federal government no longer gave a shit about what was adequate for common people. A decade or so later, a more sophisticated effort to establish adequate income levels was undertaken first by Wider Opportunities for Women and then by the Economic Policy Institute. The Reagan administration didn’t want us to be able to measure how inadequate most family incomes would become. But now we know, and we have one of our political parties at least rhetorically aspiring to adequacy.

The fate of Harri and her kids and millions like them will be determined in the next few weeks as the Democrats cajole, negotiate with, and debate each other about what will be in the final budget reconciliation bill. Let’s hope they do enough to decisively turn the page on four decades of neoliberal indifference to the people who do essential work we all depend upon.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 14, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Jack Metzgar is a professor emeritus of Humanities at Roosevelt University in Chicago. A former president of the Working-Class Studies Association, he is the author of a forthcoming book from Cornell University Press, Bridging the Divide: Working-Class Culture in a Middle-Class Society.


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Agricultural Workers Lose Millions of Dollars Each Year to Employer Wage Theft

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It’s against U.S. labor laws, but that hasn’t stopped employers from withholding more than $65 million in worker wages over the last two decades.

Tens of thou­sands of agri­cul­tur­al work­ers have been denied wages by their employ­ers—a vio­la­tion of labor laws—over the past two decades, accord­ing to Depart­ment of Labor data. The data shows that the employ­ers didn’t pay a total of $65 mil­lion in wages to their 150,000 employ­ees between 2001and 2019.

Back wages increased from $4.2 mil­lion to $6 mil­lion in 2019 than in 2018, a 44 per­cent increase, accord­ing to the data.

Agri­cul­ture is one of fif­teen indus­tries the DOL con­sid­ers “low wage, high vio­la­tion industries.”

Many in agri­cul­ture are white, but, in gen­er­al, His­pan­ics and immi­grants of col­or work tougher agri­cul­tur­al jobs, such as har­vest­ing fields and slaugh­ter­ing ani­mals. About 27% of the indus­try is His­pan­ic, accord­ing to the Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics. Employ­ers who will­ful­ly or repeat­ed­ly vio­late the Fair Labor Stan­dards Act, which cov­ers deny­ing back wages, can be fined up to $1,000 for each violation.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on August 14, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Pramod Acharya is an investigative journalist, data reporter, and multimedia content producer for the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.


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How to Save the Restaurant Workforce From Being Casualties of The Covid-19 Crisis

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As the Covid-19 pandemic has swept through cities across the country, restaurants have been forced to shut down indefinitely—or slashed their workforces and reduced their operations to threadbare delivery and take-out only services. 

Saru Jayaraman, President of One Fair Wage, an advocacy group for restaurant workers and other tipped service employees (including Uber and Doordash drivers, manicurists and car wash workers) hopes the economic turmoil might lead to a much-needed reset for the industry. 

One Fair Wage, which grew out of the national labor advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, envisions a sustainable post-pandemic business model. It starts with dismantling the subminimum wage system, which allows employers to calculate the minimum wage for tipped workers at just a fraction of the normal minimum, as little as $2.13 per hour, leading to rampant wage theft. And with millions of households grappling with food insecurity, One Fair Wage is also piloting the “High Road Kitchens” project—a combination of mutual aid and community-based entrepreneurship, which offers a living wage to all workers and currently works with restaurants in California to feed low-wage workers in their local communities.

In These Times talked to Jayaraman about how the pandemic could change restaurant work over the long term.

MC: How does the pandemic underscore the issues that One Fair Wage has been advocating around for years?

The pandemic put our work on speed because it literally just made our point for us: it showed America why no one should ever have been making less than a minimum wage to begin with. After all, remember that the minimum wage in the United States emerged from the last Great Depression, and at that time tipped workers were excluded [from unemployment benefits and federal safety net programs meant for industrial workers]. Incarcerated workers, gig workers, people with disabilities were excluded. That was supposed to be the moment when people [decided] going forward, no one is going to get less than this minimum. But it wasn’t true for these workers. So with the pandemic, more than 10 million service sector workers have lost their jobs and are having real problems accessing unemployment insurance or are getting unemployment insurance [based] on a total miscalculation of their income, because of the messiness of living off of tips. We’re hearing this from a lot of women who are single mothers. They’re going to apply for unemployment and the state unemployment insurance [office] is telling them [their tipped income] is too low to meet the minimum state threshold to qualify for unemployment insurance.

So tipped workers in America are up against two systems that come from the Great Depression and were built against them. One is the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, which never worked and has been laid bare [by the pandemic] as a completely untenable situation. And two is unemployment. Now that states are reopening and restaurant workers are being forced to go back to work, not only are tipped workers facing the difficult choice between their livelihood and their life. On top of that, we’re facing a world in which tips have gone way down. People tip delivery and takeout [workers] maybe 10% of what they tip typically in a sit-down restaurant. So, all of that has made workers very angry, and we are organizing them and building up towards some really big direct action that’s coming up.

And it’s made employers, at least many independent restaurant owners, open their eyes. We’ve worked with Gov. Newsom to launch a program called High Road Kitchen in California that would provide cash grants to restaurants that commit to higher wage and greater equity going forward. And they take the money now and rehire workers and provide free meals to the community, and paid meals to anyone who can afford to pay for it. You would think all restaurant owners would be saying “don’t raise wages right now, we’re struggling.” But on the contrary, many restaurant owners, at least independent restaurant owners—the chains are not going to move on this—are saying “you know, this is precisely the time to raise wages. This is precisely the time to make changes because we’re all reinventing what restaurants are going to look. We’re having to redo our business models from scratch, we may as well incorporate something that is sustainable for our people, because it’s been made very clear that this sub-minimum wage never worked.”

My point is that all of those workers should get a full minimum wage from their employer in addition to safety protocols, because the tips are going to be so much less reliable going forward. They were never reliable to begin with. But they’re going to be even more insecure and unreliable. 

MC: Overall what do you think the restaurant industry is going to look like, given that there are places that just aren’t going to be able to reopen. Do you think there might be more consolidation in the industry?

This is why we’re really pushing for solutions like High Road Kitchens, which is both about saving small businesses and bringing the industry in the right direction and hiring workers and feeding people all at the same time. 

What I’m thinking about is a program that gets small businesses cash and commits them to higher wages—and helps them change their business models, and then also allows them to do feeding programs and rehire workers. And so it’s a multi-win, and it’s based on the philosophy and idea that if we’re going to be providing relief, let’s shape relief in a way that shapes the future. That’s what we should be doing as a country. If we know that the pandemic has laid bare inequities, then rather than providing blanket relief, especially to these big chains, that relief needs to be contingent on commitments to change.

We have two choices: Either we can go toward a much more horrific future where we force people to go back to work at two dollars an hour and there’s no tips, so they continue at basically Great Depression-era levels of poverty and starvation, plus they’re already in debt due to the last couple of months of not having income. That’s the horrific future. And then I think that the real future we need to fight for is one where we don’t go back until we get One Fair Wage and PPE and safety protocols. I don’t think there’s an in-between. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 1, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michelle Chen is a historian based in New York City, a contributing writer at In These Times and The Nation, a contributing editor at Dissent and a co-producer of the Belabored podcast.


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It sure is great to be in the top 1%, this week in the war on workers

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If you’ve been in the workforce since 1979, how much have your wages gone up? If you’re a little younger, how much have the wages for a job like yours gone up in those years? I bet it’s not 157.8%—unless, of course, you’re in the top 1%.

By contrast, wages for the bottom 90% grew by 23.9% between 1979 and 2018, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis. The top 1% still lags one group, though, and that’s the top 0.1%, which saw its wages rise by 340.7% in those years.

This is economic inequality in action, and it’s reshaped the economy. “The bottom 90% earned 69.8% of all earnings in 1979 but only 61.0% in 2018. In contrast the top 1.0% increased its share of earnings from 7.3% in 1979 to 13.3% in 2018, a near-doubling,” EPI’s Lawrence Mishel and Melat Kassa write. “The growth of wages for the top 0.1% is the major dynamic driving the top 1.0% earnings as the top 0.1% more than tripled its earnings share from 1.6% in 1979 to 5.1% in 2018.”

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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Priorities USA launches Latino persuasion program in Florida

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Laura Barron-LopezPriorities USA is focusing on Latinos early.

The Democratic super PAC is launching a sustained digital effort to woo Latinos in the run up to the 2020 presidential election, according to details of the plan provided to POLITICO. Priorities USA is starting in Florida first and will expand the slate of digital ads to other battleground states across the country as the cycle progresses.

It’s a new piece of the super PAC’s $100 million commitment to the primaries. The group didn’t spend on Latino-focused ads in 2015.

This time they are starting before 2020 and in a state that is at the heart of President Donald Trump’s re-election efforts. The digital ads which will run on Facebook and YouTube, cover pocketbook issues that Florida Latinos care about, according to the super PAC. The group didn’t specify the amount of money being spent on the Latino outreach program.

The digital program includes digital banners, audio and pre-roll ads. The program also includes promoting news articles across Facebook focused on the impact of Trump’s policies on Latinos in Florida.

Priorities USA said the ads will be about rising health care costs, wages, and Trump’s racist rhetoric and immigration policies.

“Latino communities are feeling the negative economic impacts of President Trump’s reckless policies,” said Daniela Martins, Hispanic Media Director for Priorities USA. “We are launching this program in order to establish a continuous dialogue with Latinos on the everyday pocketbook issues they care about, like stagnant wages under a rising cost of living, the rising costs of healthcare, and the increasing lack of opportunity in an unstable economy.”

“We want them to know that their experience is not isolated, that they are not alone,” Martins said. “That they have a voice for the White House to hear, and the right to push back.”

Priorities USA is taking steps to understand Florida’s different Latino communities, which include Cubans and Puerto Ricans. And is using research it conducted earlier this year surveying Latinos in Florida, Nevada and Arizona to better understand how to reach and mobilize the voting bloc.

Latinos are on pace to be the largest non-white eligible voting bloc in 2020. Miami-Dade County, Florida is home to the third-largest Latino population, 1.9 million, according to Pew research. And hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, are estimated to have migrated to Florida after devastating hurricanes hit the island in 2017.

This article was originally published by the Politico on November 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Barrón-López is a national political reporter for POLITICO, covering House campaigns and the 2020 presidential race.

Barrón-López previously led 2018 coverage of Democrats for the Washington Examiner. At the Examiner, Barrón-López covered the DNC’s efforts to reform the power of superdelegates and traveled to competitive districts that propelled Democrats into the House majority. Before that, Barrón-López covered Congress for HuffPost for two and half years, focusing on fights over fast-track authorization, criminal justice reform, and coal miner pensions, among other policy topics in the Senate.

Early in her career, she covered energy and environment policy for The Hill. Her work has been published in the Oregonian, OC Register, E&E Publishing, and Roll Call. She earned a bachelor’s in political science from California State University, Fullerton.


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Breanna Stewart’s injury adds another layer of urgency to WNBA collective bargaining negotiations

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The 23rd season of the WNBA tips off in a little over a month, and it looks to be a momentous one for the leagues’s athletes. On court, the 12 teams and 144 players will be looking to capitalize on last year’s blockbuster season, which saw a healthy increase in ratings, a new franchise in Las Vegas get off to a promising start, and a level of league-wide talent and parity that produced an indelible array of can’t-miss match-ups on a night in, night out basis.

This year, there will be no small amount of drama off the court as well, as the players will be fighting to secure themselves a bigger piece of this expanding pie. Last October, they opted out of their current collective bargaining agreement, which will now expire at the end of the 2019 season. So they’re not just fighting for wins and titles; they’re literally fighting for better pay, better travel conditions, better marketing, and a better future for the league they love.

Unfortunately, they’re going to have to do all of this without their reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP), Breanna Stewart.

Last week, while playing in the EuroLeague Final Four championship game in Hungary with her team, the Russia-based Dynamo Kursk, Stewart ruptured her right Achilles tendon. It’s a terrible blow to a player whose last 11 months have been among the most accomplished in basketball history. During that time Stewart was recognized as the WNBA’s MVP, the WNBA Finals MVP, the FIBA World Cup MVP, and the FIBA EuroLeague Women regular season MVP. She took home a WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm and a FIBA World Cup championship with Team USA for good measure. Now, her injury will force her to sit out the entire 2019 WNBA season.

When Stewart collapsed to the ground in pain during the EuroLeague championship, her WNBA colleagues around the world stopped in their tracks. Imani McGee-Stafford, a center for the Atlanta Dream, gasped. McGee-Stafford’s Dream teammate, Elizabeth Williams, was watching the game live from Turkey when she saw Stewart fall. At the sight of Stewart’s injury, she screamed, “Nooo!” Elena Delle Donne, a forward for the Washington Mystics and good friend of Stewart’s, was simply heartbroken.

And for all of the WNBA’s players, coaches, and fans, Stewart’s devastating injury highlighted how absurd it is that the biggest stars in the WNBA still have to go overseas to play basketball during the WNBA offseason in order to earn their living, instead of spending the offseason recharging and recuperating. Stewart’s base salary this WNBA season is $64,538; overseas, elite players can sometimes earn $1 million or more per season. The current WNBA maximum salary for veterans is $117,500.

“This is harmful to our league. It effects the product on the floor. And we’ve got to find a solution to this,” said Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve.

The players are certainly trying. The executive committee of the WNBA Player’s Association (WNBPA) — which includes Delle Donne and Williams, along with Nneka Ogwumike, Layshia Clarendon, Chiney Ogwumike, Sue Bird, and Carolyn Swords — has been talking with WNBPA leadership regularly during the offseason to engineer a new path forward.

“Playing overseas should always be a choice, but not a necessity,” Delle Donne said. “There are so many reasons it makes sense for the NBA and WNBA to invest in us as players. Injury prevention is obviously a top reason.”

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A couple of weeks ago, the executive committee members who weren’t currently playing in overseas competition had their first official meeting with WNBA brass — including NBA commissioner Adam Silver, NBA deputy commissioner and interim WNBA president Mark Tatum, and several WNBA owners. The meeting was essentially a listening session, where the WNBPA laid out its priorities heading into negotiations: Salary and compensation, player experience, health and safety, and establishing a lasting business model for the league.

And while fostering the health and safety of players by limiting the need to seek employment opportunities overseas was already on the agenda, there’s little doubt that Stewart’s injury will add weight to to the conversation.

“This brings it more to the forefront and brings some urgency to the cause,” Williams said.

Injury prevention isn’t the only reason why its important to ensure that players have more opportunities to stay in the United States during the WNBA offseason. Going overseas for long stretches of time and playing competitive basketball without some sort of meaningful break contributes to mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion.

“We virtually put our lives on hold when we play overseas,” McGee-Stafford said. “We miss holidays, events, time with loved ones. But furthermore, we miss marketing moments and accessibility from our fans.”

Take Williams, for example. She has only had approximately three weeks of downtime since the Dream lost in the semifinals of last year’s WNBA playoffs in September. She’s currently in Turkey, competing in the first round of their playoffs. If her team makes it to the finals, she could be coming back more than a week into Dream training camp next month. And then the cycle would start again.

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Similarly, it’s an incredible frustration for WNBA coaches, who spend training camps unable to work with their full roster due to so many absences because of overseas play; then, when players finally return, they’re nowhere near refreshed or ready to go.

“When our players come back, we are constantly making concessions,” Reeve said. “We have to change how much time we can spend on the court with them, so you just lose the ability to have this individual improvement when there’s no offseason.”

Of course, the only way to solve this problem is money. And that’s where the conversation usually hits a roadblock. Silver has been outspoken about the fact that the WNBA is still a fledgling league, subsidized by the NBA. Partially because of those comments, there has been an erosion of trust between the WNBA players and WNBA leadership — a fact that isn’t helped by the fact that the WNBA still has not named its next president, six months after Lisa Borders resigned.

Silver has insisted that he’s committed to rebuilding that trust, but the only way to truly do it is by making a significant investment in the players during this collective bargaining session.

“I just think we have a unique opportunity, the NBA does, in that they’re seen as a progressive league, and they’re an iconic brand,” Reeve said. “The idea of being a leader in society, that would mean you’re the one putting your foot forward and saying, ‘Do this with us, treat women this way with us.’ You sort-of create a chain reaction by you stepping forward and saying, ‘You will do this, because it’s important.’ And I think when you see that opportunity, minds will change.”

Delle Donne agrees. It’s time for the chicken vs. egg fight with investment vs. success to stop. The WNBA is growing. The fans are watching. The players are getting better by leaps and bounds every generation. But the only way to continue this growth is if the best players in the world play in the WNBA. And they can’t do that if they’re getting injured playing for teams on other continents that pay them significantly more money.

“It’s in everyone’s best interest, especially the league’s and the owners’, to invest in us as players – our safety, our physical and mental well-being – to grow the game,” she said.

“Everything else, and especially the future growth of the game, hinges on the WNBA being the best and most elite place to play basketball.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs covers sports for ThinkProgress.


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Corporate tax cuts didn’t trickle down

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Republicans claimed that their big corporate tax cut would raise wages and bonuses for workers. How’s that looking now? Surprise! Not so hot.

The Economic Policy Institute is out with two key pieces of research on this question, and by two different measures, the corporate tax giveaway failed to deliver for workers. For one thing, Republicans claimed the move would lead to increased investment, which would trickle down to workers. In fact, investment growth has stalled. “That’s not to say that the TCJA itself stopped the upward trend in investment growth,” Hunter Blair writes, “but it sure is nothing like the investment boom its proponents promised.”

Second, right after the Republican tax law passed, a bunch of corporations announced bonuses for workers. It looked like a corporate PR move to benefit Republicans … and it was. “The average bonus for 2018 was just $0.01 higher than in 2017,” Lawrence Mishel writes, drawing on Bureau of Labor statistics.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on April 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.


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McDonald’s Retreat on Fighting Wage Increases Shows the Tide Is Turning

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In March, the McDonald’s Corporation announced that it would no longer actively lobby against local, state and federal efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The move comes as Democrats in the U.S. House have thrown their weight behind a bill to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour by 2024.

The decision by McDonald’s was made public in a recent letter sent from Genna Gent, vice president of U.S. government relations for McDonald’s, to the National Restaurant Association,  an industry group that represents more than 500,000 restaurant businesses across the country.

According to the corporate watchdog group, SourceWatch, the National Restaurant Association is a key lobbying group that has fought hard in recent years to block worker-friendly issues such as paid sick days and increases in the minimum wage. As Politico reporter Rebecca Rainey explained, losing McDonald’s as an ally in the fight against wage hikes serves as a “serious blow to the trade group.”

Despite the decision, however, the National Restaurant Association has stood by McDonald’s and recently called the company a “valued member” of its organization.

While initially seen as an upstart movement funded by labor union activists, the fight for a higher minimum wage appears to have moved squarely into the mainstream political landscape and is likely to remain a key campaign issue throughout the 2020 election.

Writing in the trade publication Restaurant Business in January, Peter Romeo declared that the “$15 minimum wage is already a presidential campaign issue.” Romeo noted that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a current contender for the nation’s highest office, has “already set the so-called living wage as an issue he’ll keep front and center.” In so doing, Sanders’ support, which he has expressed since at least 2015, could “prove a test for fellow senators who hope to land the Democratic nomination by winning the support of unions and blue-collar voters.”

Most of the major Democratic presidential candidates, from Kamala Harris to Elizabeth Warren, already support raising the minimum wage to $15. Recent polls also show a majority of American voters support increasing the minimum wage.

One of the groups that has been calling attention to labor and wage issues in the restaurant industry is the nonprofit Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROCU). Anthony Advincula, the public affairs officer for ROCU, tells In These Timesthat he feels hopeful after McDonald’s decision to stop lobbying against a minimum wage increase.

“We applaud McDonald’s efforts to not block the move to raise wages,” Advincula says, before expressing a note of caution. McDonald’s decision is a “good sign,” he insists, but not cause for celebration just yet. “We are not going to stop. The workers as well as the unions will never step backwards,” Advincula added, indicating that the fight now for groups such as his is to help ensure that the federal minimum wage bill becomes more than just a campaign talking point.

The Democrats in the House are largely in support of such a wage raise, but many in the Republican-controlled Senate have voiced their opposition to the proposed increase, meaning the Raise the Wage bill—the current legislation lifting the minimum wage to $15—could soon hit a dead end.

Regardless of these roadblocks, many observers see undeniable momentum on this issue. Companies such as Amazon, Target, Bank of America and Costco have independently committed to raising workers’ wages, perhaps in part to avoid the increasingly negative attention some have received over their employees’ inability to make ends meet while company profits soar.

Yet while the McDonald’s Corporation has stated that it actively fight wage increases, it still has not agreed to raise its own minimum wage. In her letter to the National Restaurant Association, Gent argued that the “average starting wage at its corporate-owned stores already exceeds $10 per hour,” according to a Politico report. That figure is higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. Gent also noted that individual franchise owners set the pay rate for their own locations.

The lack of commitment to an overall minimum wage increase from McDonald’s has led some to dismiss the company’s recent announcement as little more than a publicity stunt. Still, in an op-ed published in the Chicago Sun-Times, Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project, stated that McDonald’s decision to stop participating in the campaign against minimum wage increases is a sign that such opposition is “untenable in today’s America.”

“There’s no doubt the company’s decision is a direct response to the thousands and thousands of McDonald’s workers who’ve taken to the streets, gone on strike and even gotten arrested to further their fight for $15 an hour and a union,” Owens wrote. She then tapped into the growing political and popular support for wage increases, noting that the company’s “move comes at a time when McDonald’s opposition to minimum wage increases has clearly become out of step with both the politics around wages and the actions of companies across the country.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on April 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sarah Lahm is a Minneapolis-based writer and former English Instructor. She is a 2015 Progressive magazine Education Fellow and blogs about education at brightlightsmallcity.com.


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187 Republicans vote against bill to close the gender wage gap

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The House on Wednesday voted 242-187 for a bill that would strengthen protections for female workers and help close the gender wage gap. The vote comes as Republicans are trumpeting themselves as the champions of women’s economic mobility — though only seven of them voted for the bill.

Iterations of this legislation have been debated by lawmakers for decades but have never actually been able to pass. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), seeks to boost women’s pay by prohibiting employers from seeking job applicants’ salary histories and preventing them from retaliating against workers for disclosing their wages. It also would require the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to collect wage data based on sex, race, and national origin to better determine whether employers are responsible for discriminatory practices. The House passed the bill on Wednesday despite Republicans’ opposition, but it now faces an uncertain future in the GOP-controlled Senate.

The House Education and Labor Committee voted to advance the legislation earlier this week. Every single Republican opposed moving the bill out of committee, with many saying the focus should instead be on providing more job opportunities for women.

Republicans often like to point to data showing that women gained 58 percent of new, private-sector jobs in 2018. Trump touted the figure in his State of the Union address in February, and Republicans in the Education and Labor Committee again brought it up when discussing the Paycheck and Fairness Act.

But many of the jobs gained by women are part time, and nearly 80 percent of them fell into just four categories: education and health services, professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and manufacturing. In three of those industries, women make less than 80 cents for every dollar a man earns, or worse than the average national wage gap, according to a 2018 analysis by the Center for American Progress analysis. (Editor’s Note: ThinkProgress is an editorially independent newsroom housed at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.)

Jocelyn Frye, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who focuses on work-family balance, pay equity, and women’s leadership, said, “It’s not to discount that women have received jobs and obviously want jobs but there is a disconnect. It’s not responsive to the question [of pay inequality]. The fact that you gave the jobs doesn’t change the fact that the jobs are underpaying women.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have been looking for ways to appeal to greater numbers of women voters, particularly since their support among women plummeted in the 2018 midterm elections.

In November, 59 percent of women voted for Democrats in the congressional elections, according to exit poll data. Only 40 percent of women voted for Republicans. There was no measurement for how nonbinary people voted across race or educational attainment. Black and Latina women overwhelmingly voted for Democratic candidates.

Although there was a roughly even split for how white women voted, 59 percent of college-educated white women and 56 percent of white voters ages 18 to 29 voted for Democrats. Experts say these shifts likely represent a long-term trend.

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Kelly Dittmar of the Center for American Women and Politics, part of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, said the shift likely isn’t about Trump alone, but about the broader Republican Party.

“My hypothesis at this moment is that it is actually a trend because there were signs of this trend before Donald Trump, it’s just that you saw it through an acceleration I think — the departure of these women,” Dittmar said. “I think you’ll continue to see it because these women who are particularly upset with how the party has dealt with Donald Trump, it certainly leaves a taste in their mouth about the party overall.”

She added, “If you put these women on a scale when it comes to immigration or guns or the environment, their positions on these issues are just not aligned with the current agenda and leadership in the Republican Party.”

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said that when looking at women who vote in the general election, college-educated and suburban women are identifying as more independent and Democratic. She said three major waves encapsulate that movement.

The Republican Party’s position on social issues — including birth control, Title IX, and sexual harassment and violence — led to some women moving away from the Republican Party in 2016. The second wave emerged as voters reacted to Trump’s racist and sexist behavior, as well as how he governs.

“The third wave, which is more recent, is a sense that the country is going in the wrong direction, that the priorities are wrong, that we are not dealing with everything from health care to climate change,” Lake said.

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Lake said that for female voters, including Republican women, equal pay is high on the list of concerns, along with domestic violence programs. The reauthorization and expansion of the Violence Against Women Act is on the House agenda this session. But Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) is the only Republican in the House who is cosponsoring the bill and the only Republican who has shown support for the bill by attending its introduction.

“There’s a very high correlation between concerns about sexual harassment and concerns about domestic violence and concerns about equal pay.” Lake said. “And equal pay is still the most salient of the three with women overall. And it’s particularly salient with Republican women who are very adamant about equal pay and that it remains a problem.”

Dittmar said that across gender, voters are concerned about economic stability and the well-being of their families. But they are divided over who is responsible. She explained that college-educated women who identify as Democrats tend to say the government plays a role but Republicans tend to say it’s up to businesses to address equal pay.

Broadly I think there is pretty high popularity for wanting to address equal pay but it’s in the how where you see the disparity both among legislators as well as the public,” she said.

Ariane Hegewisch, program director of employment and earnings for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, said these measures are necessary to ensure workplace fairness.

“What the Equal Pay Act recognizes and what the Paycheck Fairness Act is trying to update 50 years on to more current circumstances is that there is discrimination in the labor market and if you just rely on what people are paid now, you are going to pick up discrimination and import it into your organization,” she said. “You have to pay people the same if they do the same job and have similar education, experience and performance. You can qualify their personal performance but it has to be fact based.”

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, it will take until 2059 for women to reach pay parity if change continues at the current pace. Black women would have to wait until 2119 for equal pay, and Latina women until 2224.

“After what I would call a wave election in 2018 where women were elected to historic numbers in Congress, people have very high expectations of what they are going to get from lawmakers and it is not acceptable simply to say I support equal pay but I have nothing to show for it,” said Frye.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on March 27, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering gender and sexuality. Their work has also been published in The Establishment, Bustle, Glamour, The Guardian, and In These Times.


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Raising the minimum wage works

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Hey, what do you know! It turns out that raising the minimum wage … raises pay for low-wage workers. Somehow, in the United States of America, this needs to be said.

The Economic Policy Institute looked at wage growth for the lowest-paid 10 percent of workers across the states, and it turns out that, for states that raised their minimum wage at least once between 2013 and 2018, it “was more than 50 percent faster than in states without any minimum wage increases (13.0 percent vs. 8.4 percent).” The effect was bigger for women than for men, which makes sense, since women are likely to be paid less.

Bar graph showing wage growth at the bottom 10% comparing states with minimm wage increases between 2013 and 2018 and those without.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on March 9, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.


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