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Friday, October 28, 2016

Among the many issues on which Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. focused was economic opportunity for all.

Just over 50 years ago, Dr. King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. The rally confronted an array of political, social, and economic issues plaguing the country during the civil rights era. One of the 10 demands the marchers made was a raise in the minimum wage, aimed at offering “all Americans a decent standard of living.”

The proposed wage was $2 an hour, which is $15.23 in today’s dollars. And yet, the federal minimum wage remains a meager $7.25 an hour.

The current rate has remained unchanged for the past four years; had it been adjusted to match inflation rates since Dr. King’s plea for equal economic opportunity, today’s minimum wage would exceed $10 an hour.

Dan Essrow and Dan Crawford, both of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), find that if the value of the minimum wage had increased “alongside productivity,” it would be $18.75 today, and if it had increased “at the same rate as the wages of the top 1 percent, it would be $28 per hour.”

Raising the minimum wage, however, has proved to be an ongoing struggle in Congress.

In March of last year, the House GOP voted unanimously against Representative George Miller’s (D-CA) proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, arguing that doing so would discourage small businesses from hiring workers.

Currently, Congress is mulling over Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative Miller’s latest $10.10 wage proposal, the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013.

“Some Republicans have already agreed to that concept,” Harkin says. “The question is at what level.”

Still, many Republicans — including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) — argue that increasing the minimum wage would slow the nation’s economic recovery.

The president, congressional Democrats and a majority of Americans disagree with this notion, and according to the EPI, an estimated 14.2 percent of workers would actually benefit from an increase.

Studies also show that refusing to raise the minimum wage not only perpetuates the growing income inequality that threatens the nation’s dwindling middle class, but disproportionately impacts minorities. As the EPI points out, “on all socioeconomic measures, African-Americans still lag whites by wide margins.” In fact, even though African-Americans make up only 32 percent of the nation’s workforce, they account for 42 percent of minimum-wage workers.

Keeping the minimum wage at $7.25 per hour is a sure way to ensure that already existing wealth disparities keep families across the nation in poverty. If the rate were raised to just $10.10 an hour – $5 less than what is considered by many as a “living wage” – 30.3 million workers would get a raise by 2015, and 6.8 million people could potentially be lifted out of poverty.

The chart below demonstrates the wide gap between minimum-wage workers and middle-income workers. The graph shows that the minimum wage reached its peak value in 1968, when it aligned with middle-income wages. Since 1968, however, the gap between the minimum wage and middle-income wages has only widened, with the minimum wage declining in value.

Minimum Wage value

Considering that over 50 years have passed since Dr. King and advocates like him urged lawmakers to support a decent living wage for all Americans, numbers demonstrating concentrated poverty among minorities and low-wage workers show just how far we must still go to achieve full job and income equality.

Raising the minimum wage is not just a racial or economic issue, but a social justice one, too.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Chart via Center On Budget and Policy Priorities

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Copyright 2014 The National Memo
  • daniel bostdorf

    Homor Dr. King and institute his “guaranteed income” plan.

    Back in 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King and highly respected economists both
    Democrat and Republican proposed this a s a way to eliminate poverty
    once and for all.

    Concept is outlined here:

    From the article:
    “Rev. Dr. King viewed the guaranteed income as the way to abolish poverty. It
    does have that effect, but when properly funded (not touching earned income) and properly distributed (to all people), it becomes more than that — it can be a fundamental instrument of economic justice.

    A guaranteed annual out of poverty level annual income would eliminate
    all antiquated social programs and nearly all entitlements. It would
    make this country the leader in eliminating poverty once and for all.
    In addition, We need livable affordable housing, and a justice system
    free from big money.

    The article link contains a dollar figure in
    1967 as needing 20 billion to do this. In 1967 1 million dollars is now

    In reality we would need only 140 billion. Easily obtainable by transfering that out of existing trillion dollar social programs.

    The poor are not poor. They pay taxes. have housing and the middle class is resurgent again.

    Let me explain further why we shoild eliminate “minimum wage:”
    Example: $15/hour supposed livable wage scenario:

    $15/hour is $420 a week 28 hours part time. $21840 yearly .

    Still poverty level.
    $15/hour full time is $600 a week/ $31200 yearly.

    Still near or at poverty if you consider family size.

    Federal poverty guidelines here:

    Therefore….the “minimum wage or livable wage” should be replaced with a guaranteed yearly income based upon Federal poverty statistics by state.

    Dr. King led the way….Nelson Mandela followed:
    “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.” ……Nelson Mandela

    • Allan Richardson

      This will require rethinking our beliefs about economics, which were formed in an era of scarce labor, and scarce output when people were not working FULL time (or, by today’s standards, OVERTIME: 12 hours per day, 6 days a week, with one day off ONLY because of the religious heritage of Western civilization). Today, the labor of HALF the working age population working 40 hours per week produces all the consumer goods we really need (and by need, I include luxuries, but only those we would SEEK OUT even if they were not heavily advertised), and constant population growth, which is not PHYSICALLY sustainable on this planet, is needed to consume enough to employ the other half full time, and even that is possible only with high minimum wages and lower inequality.

      So, the MORAL argument that anyone able to work full time who does not do so is not entitled to consume ANYTHING necessary to life or to happiness FAILS when we have high unemployment because of the SUCCESS of technology in making their labor redundant. Yet, the idea that it isn’t FAIR that some MUST work while others MUST be idle, except when the idle are the few fortunate enough to have inherited or previously accrued vast wealth (and yes, in many cases talented and hard-working enough to earn it, in a market economy with the infrastructure to support their efforts), leads us to deny the legitimacy of redistribution ideas such as GAI.

      Perhaps the moral argument could be bypassed by a LOTTERY. Say that economists have determined that the private for-profit sector of the economy could make everything that even more highly paid workers would want with 75 percent of the potential work force (a number which would increase with technological advances, and may be higher if outsourcing the “making” jobs to less affluent nations is accounted for). So, everybody receiving unemployment compensation, even for one week, would be entered into a lottery. A “lucky” 25 percent would be told, “Don’t bother looking for work right now, and you will get a guaranteed paycheck from the government. If you feel BORED BEING IDLE, here is a list of jobs that do not make profits for investors that you can do (like the WPA, possibly including rehabilitating infrastructure, deploying renewable energy sources and networks, or sorting garbage for recycling) to feel you are earning it, or you are free to find some volunteer work to help society while you are earning this guaranteed wage, and if you need to buy supplies to do so, you can be reimbursed for your expenses. But remember, NEXT year you may NOT be among the lottery winners, so keep yourself qualified for work.” I put “lucky” in quotes because, to the vast majority of Americans raised on a work ethic, they would feel INSULTED or ASHAMED to win this lottery, UNLESS their country asked for some non-commercial service in exchange. Only a small minority of those who won, contrary to the insults conservatives hurl at “the poor,” actually WANT to live a completely idle and useless life. Of course, the lack of education of many of the poor (and sadly, the lack of ABSORBED education of many middle and upper income people as well) leads to a scarcity of ideas for ways to be constructively occupied when they are not in a structured working environment, except for a small talented minority; this may account for the ugly stereotype to some extent also.

      Our non-commercial quality of life would be enhanced, because many workers who cannot afford to do non-wage-earning labor such as writing, art, counseling, comforting, public works labor, child care for working poor parents, etc, or even STUDYING to qualify to do those other things, would be able to advance themselves and perform these “humanistic” services on the guaranteed wage. Imagine if 10 percent of the unemployed who are literate were able to tutor people who want work but did not receive enough education, outside of the school institution (but possibly using its facilities after hours), so they could pass a GED exam and go on to learn more.

      What if people with good public service ideas but middle or lower income could take the time to become political leaders without having to sell their political agendas to big money donors, because there were enough not-for-profit volunteer operated media to get their message out? Note: in the lottery I propose, anyone who, despite being a “winner” of the guaranteed wage, seeks out and obtains a paid job anyway, INCLUDING winning political office, would be taken off the rolls, and his or her “ticket” would go to someone else who is unemployed, chosen at random by lot also.

      There was a motto, taken from the last line of the poem “Invictus” and used by the air raid spotters in Britain during the Blitz, which goes “They also serve who only stand and wait.” When only a fraction of us are NEEDED to work on commercial jobs, would that not be a good motto for a lottery-distributed guaranteed wage?

      Incidentally, this should not REPLACE the unemployment compensation system; the lottery non-winners would still receive the traditional unemployment compensation as long as they were still LOOKING for work. And they would be more likely to find work quickly with the lottery winners not competing for those jobs.

      • daniel bostdorf

        Fascinating post….thanks!

      • Independent1

        Interesting suggestion – an unemployment lottery!
        Is it possible that what you’re pointing out (we have more workers needing to work than are needed to really produce the goods and services we need) the reason that people in virtually every other country but America have far more liesure time off each year (vacations) from their jobs??

        If I’m not mistaken, workers in most countries in Europe often get as much as 2 months paid vacation each year. It would seem that running a company with all its work force getting almost 20% of the year off would mean it would have to hire more employees than many of America’s companies do where people are so afraid to lose their jobs that they often take little or no vacation time – allowing the company to operate with far fewer employees, not only because of technology but also because each employee are putting in a large number of work hours/year.

        In addition to the lottery you’re suggesting, maybe Congress needs to establish a maximum number of work hours that a company can expected each employee to work in a week or year. A maximum is far less than what companies seem to be expecting of their people which can be as much as 70 or more hours a week today (and that includes with respect to company management).

        • Allan Richardson

          Glad to see someone who has put some thought into the matter. After posting this, I did some additional thinking and realized that there is one large group of citizens that society would be better off paying to do a specific NON market based job than requiring them to get a market based job or else starve: single parents (mostly mothers) of children under high school age (and I’m not sure that last phrase shouldn’t be “under college age”).

          The usual moral argument is that “women will have multiple children out of wedlock in order to get more welfare money” and that they need to work in order to be “punished” for having children out of wedlock. Those who advance this argument have never shown (a) that more than a microscopically small percentage of welfare moms do this, (b) that the extra welfare, in those states which give it, even meets, never mind exceeds, the extra costs of raising an extra chile, and (c) ignore the case of mothers (and a few fathers) whose mates, initially in wedlock or in relationships entered with marriage in the plan, either abandon the child(ren) or are so abusive that one partner and the children MUST escape the abuse. Also, in implying laziness, are they saying that parenting, done PROPERLY, is NOT a full time job? The same pundits say it IS a full time job for those lucky enough to have a mate who earns enough for both, but for those who have lost, or had to run from, their mates, it is a virtue to juggle work and parenting the way they advise the affluent NOT to do!

          So perhaps, before we get to the point where we MUST have a lottery, we could ASK single parents with children at home (yes, that includes fathers; I know of a woman who has been with three different men and leaves babies with their fathers to move on to another man when they are old enough to eat solid food; I call these “parents” CUCKOOS, not in the popular, but in the biological sense) to devote FULL TIME to parenting, give them assistance if they need to learn how, and pay them, on behalf of the society in which their grown children will be living, to produce the best citizens possible. This is productive in the larger sense, if not in the strict market-based sense. Of course, the state could take action in extreme cases, and a single parent who LOST custody through legal procedures would, of course, have to be either studying full time, working full time, or doing both part time, in order to qualify for assistance.

          And what about full time students in general? If they are studying something useful to society, and applying themselves to their studies, then society would be making an investment in the future to subsidize their studies. At least one nation, admired by American conservatives, subsidizes PERPETUAL study of RELIGIOUS texts by a group of able-bodied young men, while they marry and raise families, with not even a requirement that they become clergymen and act as spiritual guides for others! That would be a bit extreme, but if they can afford “forty years of college” being subsidized, surely we can afford to invest in four to seven years.

          • Independent1

            Some interesting ideas! Unfortunately, we’d have to greatly change the mindset of conservatives or vote them out of office, in order to move in any direction other than one that is so profit focused that it refuses to entertain any ideas other than working a company’s employees until they almost drop so employers can make a maximum profit. I think the same holds true for Daniels idea of a minimum income which I think would address some of what you’re suggesting if the qualification for getting the minimum income could include educational initiatives that would benefit society as a whole.
            Many European countries, at least, even now provide for educating their citizens through at least the equivalent of our 4 year colleges, and some even pay for advanced studies of those who excel in their studies. Someone informed me in a recent post that at least one of the Scandinavian countries provides its citizens with free nursing home care in their later years, probably because they have an abundance of people who were trained in that line of work as part of the country’s free education program and the country may have a minimum income type program that pays these folks to care for the elderly such that the only ongoing additional cost to the nation is for the medicines and food these folks may need beyond the one time cost of building the facilities. It seems that Americas’ ‘for profit or nothing’ mentality is keeping America from allowing it citizens far more enjoyment of life.

  • Independent1

    Not only is Congress having trouble listening to the American people who strongly support a minimum wage increase, they do appear to even listen to economists. Here are some excerpt from an article in CnnMoney with a little more specifics on what’s being proposed (only politicians who are determined to keep our economy from growing would vote against raising the minimum wage which would be a form of stimulus for the economy):

    A Democratic proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour got the backing Tuesday of 75 leading economists.

    By Jeanne Sahadi @CNNMoney January 14, 2014: 3:01 PM ET

    The group includes seven Nobel laureates, among them Joseph Stiglitz and Peter Diamond, and several former Obama and Clinton administration economists. They lent their support to legislation known as the Fair Minimum Wage Act, introduced in the House by Rep. George Miller and in the Senate by Sen. Tom Harkin.

    “The vast majority of employees who would benefit are adults in working families, disproportionately women, who work at least 20 hours a week and depend on these earnings to make ends meet,” the group wrote in a letter to congressional leaders and to President Obama, who backs the Miller-Harkin proposal.

    Only about 1.6 million hourly workers currently earn the minimum wage, according the Congressional Research Service. But the Economic Policy Institute, estimates that another 17 million hourly workers who now earn between $7.25 and $10.10 an hour would see higher wages over the three years of a phased-in increase. And millions more who make above $10.10 would indirectly benefit if employers adjust pay scales commensurate with a minimum wage increase, EPI estimates.

    The Miller-Harkin proposal would also raise the hourly base for workers paid in tips. It would increase for one year to $3 from $2.13 currently. Then the proposal calls for the base to be adjusted annually so that it eventually matches 70% of the federal minimum wage. Reaching that 70% peg is expected to take about six years, after which it would be adjusted annually for inflation.

    • jmprint

      What is funny about companies like McDonalds and Jack In The Box is that they pay minimum wage to their employees, but spend billions on facelifting their buildings for an image, but the food and service sucks, maybe if they paid 10.00 an hour they would improve on quality of service and product.

    • daniel bostdorf

      Nice post—see my further comment above

      • Independent1

        Yeah! Good comment! I gave it a thumbs up!

        This is a bit off topic, but I came across an article on Mother Jones that shows just how devious and manipulative the Bush Administration was; not only did they trample on the 4th Amendment but at least half of America’s other Consitutional sensibilities. If you haven’t seen it, you may want to relive the run up to the Iraq war with a lie by lie account of the two year run up to the war.

        From Mother Jones:

        Lie by Lie: A Timeline of How We Got Into Iraq

        • daniel bostdorf

          Well—as it relates to Dr. Martin Luther king Jr, he was rabid anti-war and poverty….so….the stretch for relevancy goes to what would King think about not only the current ridiculous “minimum wage” issue which King solved in 1967 (along with Senator Patrick Moynihan in 1973)….

          Your comment serves to remind us how this country descended into waging a war on those IN poverty….The Bush/Cheney facism government perpetuated that war o those in poverty and srtuggling with a “minumim unliveable wage” This created the climate for Dissecting the 4th and 5th amendments..

          The psychology of the far right mindset has nearly destroyed Dr. King’s vision of getting the USA out of poverty.

        • daniel bostdorf

          by the way the old troll apologizer for obozomustgo and 2 dozen other banned posters is back: chino49p

          • Independent1

            Thanks for the tip!

  • jmprint

    If Boehner was so concerned about about the economy he would vote for an extension on unemployment benefits. When have they ever been concerned about small business. I am small business and the republicans have only passed laws that have hurt us. All laws passed are to help their buddies and large corporations. Small companies are too small to take advantage of the tax loop holes. For being educated they sure are stupid.

  • daniel bostdorf

    Here is another interesting perspective from the Financial Times on replacing minimum wage with a “minimum income.” Quote from article:

    “Fixing wages and prices in this way isn’t an example of Big Government;
    it’s rather what I call phoney small government. Part of its appeal is
    that it appears less interventionist than the alternative, as proposed
    by that early economist Robin Hood: Take from the rich and give to the
    poor. But it isn’t. It’s just less effective. Pass a law demanding that
    employers pay each worker a higher wage than they’d prefer to pay, and
    they have an easy (and perfectly legal) way to avoid it: hire fewer
    workers. …Social obligations should be socially financed. As a collective ideal,
    distributional justice is ill-suited to being pursued through markets.
    That’s not what they’re for. Let us stop shunting our responsibility off
    on others. In place of the minimum wage, let us fix a minimum income.”

    I can say it any better…

  • 1olderbutwiser1

    The only person having a right to a job is the owner of their own company. People today think they have a right to the efforts of others based on simply being a human being. REDICULOUS A job is something you must earn……too severe a concept for lazy people. In your heart, and with a clear mind, you know I am right.

  • The Beech Bums

    In fact, successfully serving a free market’s unknown customers depends upon knowing a thousand particulars that will be learned only by those with an interest in knowing them.