Saturday, January 03, 2015

187.1 - Good News: minimum wage hikes

Good News: minimum wage hikes

Let's start the week, as I always like to, with some Good News.

Around this time, a lot of shows will do some sort of re-cap of the preceding year. We're not doing that, but it is appropriate that both our bits of Good News this week concern things we have talked about a number of times over 2014.

Our first bit is that a week before Christmas, the mayor and city council of Louisville, Kentucky reached an agreement to raise the minimum wage in the city to $9 an hour over the next three years and to tie it beyond that time to the Consumer Price Index, that is, the inflation rate, for urban cities in the region.

Louisville thus joins places including Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, Chicago, and Washington, DC, in raising the minimum wage in that city. In each case, they did so by overcoming the opposition of businesses and business leaders who continue to claim that giving the lowest-paid workers even a small raise will lead to major job losses and economic doom no matter how many times experience has shown that claim to be untrue.

For one example, when the small city of SeaTac, Washington, about 12 or 13 miles south of Seattle, raised its base pay to $15 per hour in 2013, employers were up in arms. But now, just a year later, the Puget Sound Business Journal reports that references to the increase produce nothing more than a "shoulder shrug."

In fact, 2014 has been called by some "the year of the minimum wage." It was, certainly, the year that the work of the preceding years began to pay off.

Besides the cities that have acted, 13 states, including some deep red ones, passed minimum wage increases in 2014, with the result that over 1.5 million American workers got a raise as of January 1.  Another 1.4 million workers in New York state saw a raise on that day because of changes passed in 2013 and more than a million others saw their wages hiked because their states link the minimum wage to inflation. All together, at the start of the new year nearly 4.5 million American workers got a raise as a direct result of the campaign to raise the minimum wage.

As of January 1, 2015, 29 states and Washington, DC, have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage.

What has happened is especially happy because these increases have come as the result of an active campaign spearheaded, as we here have noted several times, by low-age workers particularly in the fast-food industry joined by colleagues working for places like the notoriously anti-union Walmart who have staged a series of lightning strikes and public demonstrations calling for a wage of $15 an hour.

These improvements have come, that is, as the result of worker power arousing a public conscience generating a force that the corporations could not overcome and the politicians, or at least enough of them, dared not oppose. And that is good news.

One last thought: If 29 states and DC have minimums above the federal level, that means that 21 states and the feds still apply the federal minimum wage, which is a puny $7.25 an hour. Just to remind you how low that is, working at that pay full time, that is, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, gives you a gross income of $15,080 - which is $650 below the federal poverty level for a family of two and close to $9000 below the poverty line for a family of four.

Which should also indicate to you that even with the increases, these new minimum wages are not enough. Just reaching poverty level for a family of four, again working full-time, year-round, requires a wage of at lease $11.47 an hour, which most of these increases do not reach and will not reach even over the next few years.

If 2014 was the year of the minimum wage, let's see if we can make 2015 the year of the living wage. Now, that would be really good news.

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