Labor Day. What's the Point?

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Jim Black | September 3, 2013

Another Labor Day has come and gone and with the way things are going one has to wonder why we even celebrate it at all. Let's face it, workers have been taking it on the chin for quite a while now.

 Most of us “workers,” if we are in fact even working, are either working more hours for less pay or are working fewer hours and earning less. Most of us no longer have paid sick days or even vacation days and are lucky if we have a spouse with health insurance. While the Labor Department reports employment growth, most of those new jobs are for minimum or low wages.

Maybe it would be more accurate to refer to that day, as many European Nations do, as a “Bank holiday.” Or, since the Economic Policy Institute reports that nearly 60% of all income gains in the past 30 years has moved up to the top 1%, we could call it a servant's holiday. Without pay of course. But at least we could all grill out and see friends and family.

As a society, change comes at a snail's pace in this country. Consider how long it took to pass Civil Rights legislation and more recently, accept same sex marriage. Perhaps we could finally start to recognize that it is time to raise the minimum wage, which would have been over $10 dollars an hour if only adjusted to inflation.

Recently, fast food workers in dozens of cities staged one day strikes to raise the minimum hourly wage. The tired old arguments against it are no longer valid, if they ever were. These jobs are meant for teenagers, we're told. They're meant to be temporary jobs on the climb up the economic ladder. Paying workers more would force companies to raise their prices and lay off workers, etc.

These were the same arguments we heard in 1968. And none of it happened.
First of all, why should anyone receive an unlivable wage based on their age? Secondly, it is no longer mostly teens asking if you want fries with that.

Today's fast food workers are college grads who cannot find jobs related to their studies. They are 30-somethings working a second or third job in order to save their homes. They are senior citizens who can't afford to retire. They are young people who can't afford to go to college or single moms trying to feed their kids. They are your friends, your neighbors, your family.

Aside from who works where, raising the minimum wage to only $9.50 would increase spending in this country by $60 billion a year, according to The Economic Policy Institute, and likely lead to the creation of up to 250,000 tax-paying jobs a year.

But you don't have to be an economist to see the common sense of this. Most of us are on a self- induced austerity plan. We don't go out to local diners or restaurants with any regularity. We don't vacation or travel much. We don't buy as many clothes or non-essential items, etc. any more. All that money, times millions of us, has been pulled out of the economy.

The time has come for CEOs earning multimillion dollar salaries and bonuses to take a pay cut instead of paying their workers the absolute minimum or cutting the pay, benefits and hours of their employees. Maybe fast food workers and those employed at Walmart wouldn't need tax-funded food stamps and other public assistance if they were paid a living wage. The fact that the handful of Walmart heirs are worth the bottom third of the entire US economy, and the people who work to make this happen need food stamps to survive point not to a system that is too generous but to a socioeconomic strata that is too greedy.

It's time already. Raise the wage!

Wisconsense is a community blog written by contributor Jim Black.

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