By Jim Hightower

Our Disgraceful Minimum Wage

September 19, 2012 12:00 am Category: Memo Pad 30 Comments A+ / A-

In natural terms, our economy is a giant sequoia. Unfortunately, our present corporate and governmental leadership can’t seem to grasp one of the basic laws of nature: You can’t keep a mighty tree alive (much less have it thrive) by only spritzing the fine leaves at the tippy-top. The fate of the whole tree depends on nurturing the roots.

Sadly, we’re led by a myopic crew of leaf-spritzers.

Elites in Washington, on Wall Street and in the corporate suites have taken exquisite care of themselves. Blithely oblivious to the dangerous shriveling of the roots, they’ve increased their take by offshoring our middle-class jobs, slashing American wages and benefits, busting the ability of unions to fight back, deregulating their nefarious corporate and financial operations, dodging their tax obligations, privatizing and gutting public services (from schools to food stamps), and turning our elections into auctions run by and for billionaires, thus robbing America itself of its unifying ethos: economic fairness and social justice.

One of the least excusable of today’s injustices is that in this country of unsurpassed wealth, it’s an abomination that the power elites are casually tolerating poverty pay as our wage floor. How deplorable that they can actually juxtapose the words “working” and “poor” without blinking, much less blushing.

Nearly 4 million Americans are being paid at or below the desiccated federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. For a single mother with two kids, that’s $4,000 a year beneath the poverty level. Where are the ethics in a “work ethic” that rewards so many with paychecks that deliberately hold them in poverty?

Consider the kind of life $7.25 buys. At that rate, a full-time worker is taking in only $1,250 a month, before payroll taxes. Try stretching that over the basics of rent, utilities, groceries and gas. Need car repair? Lose your job? What if you get sick? Good luck.

Corporate politicos and front groups have draped a thick tapestry of myths and excuses over the miserly wage.

“The only people paid the minimum,” goes one of their oldest dodges, “are teenagers working part-time summer jobs for extra cash.” In fact, only 6.4 percent of these low-wage employees are teen part-timers. Contrary to the stereotype, the typical minimum-wage worker is an adult, white woman (including many single moms) whose family relies on her paycheck.

Pages →  1 2

Our Disgraceful Minimum Wage Reviewed by on . In natural terms, our economy is a giant sequoia. Unfortunately, our present corporate and governmental leadership can't seem to grasp one of the basic laws of In natural terms, our economy is a giant sequoia. Unfortunately, our present corporate and governmental leadership can't seem to grasp one of the basic laws of Rating:

More by Jim Hightower

America’s Natural Politics

My father, W.F. “High” Hightower, was a populist. Only he didn’t know it. Didn’t know the word, much less the history or anything about populism’s democratic ethos. My father was not philosophical, but he had a phrase that he used to express the gist of his political beliefs: “Everybody does better when everybody does better.” Before

Read more...

Help Wash Formaldehyde Out Of Babies’ Hair

In the U.S. alone, the cosmetics industry pulls in some $70 billion a year in sales of what’s commonly called “makeup.” But lipstick, blush, mascara, etc. are not the only kind of makeup the cosmetic giants are peddling. For years, their lobbyists, lawyers and PR agents have been making up facts, stories, half-truths and whole

Read more...

A Billionaire’s Sound Advice To The Billionaire’s Club

I’ve noticed several CEOs, political pundits and so-called economic experts saying they’re confused as to why Americans are so down. Consumers should be out buying stuff, they say, for the economy is humming again. Just look at the key indicators: GDP is growing, corporate profits are high, the stock market is soaring, jobs are being

Read more...

Tags

Comments

  • http://www.facebook.com/dominick.vila.1 Dominick Vila

    One of the centerpieces of the GOP campaign strategy is the demonization of organized labor, and an integral part of that strategy involves blaming them for our inability to compete effectively against other industrialized nations. Instead of trying to find out why countries like Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Japan can pay high wages, offer excellent benefits, and remain competitive our focus is on reducing a minimum wage that is grossly inadequate and eliminating benefits, while at the same time offering corporations loopholes and tax breaks to CEOs!
    The essense of Republican policy when it comes to labor is limited to ensuring the wealthy that already hold most of our financial wealth can increase their holdings, and figure out how to take away some of the crumbs the working class gets and needs to survive.

    • tokoloshi27

      Dom, once again you seem to have a positive genius for trivializing a discussion. The European and Japanese economies have a much higher cost of living; so any discussion would need some cost-parity before making comparisons. On that point there is a significant difference between the cost of living in NYC and Shreveport, LA for example. Any federal minimum wage has to take these differentials into account, therefore it may not be quite as marginal everywhere in the country – which is not to say that a “single mother” in a metropolitan area with a high cost of living is not disadvantaged. Clearly she is, which is why the theory of “safety-nets” is in place.

      You consistently point out that “organized labor” is being demonized; what, in your opinion is the reason? For myself I look at organized labor in the United States’ recent track-history of destroying industries. If labor was designed more to supplement the industries it serves then it wouldn’t need to be demonized. This is something we have exchanged comments on before; the European Unions are much more pragmatic about not killing the golden goose, they look for ways they and management can work more productively together (as a rule) and when they don’t the parties are taken to task about the matter.

      Perhaps a better approach might be to define what a minimum wage is actually intended to address. Is it actually for unskilled entry labor (a prospective trainee for example) or is intended to address what a family of two or three (single mother doing hotel housekeeping) needs to live on? If an employer or prospective employer had a window to access an employee’s work-ethic under working conditions before the job became permanent, a wage addressing this and more lenient hiring & firing practices might encourage more liberal hiring by small businesses. Perhaps what is needed is not a single number, but a graduated scheme where COLA could be factored in.

      In my opinion we need to examine the issue from a few divergent perspectives before we commit to policies that (like the Europeans) could trap us into negative economic spirals.

      • http://www.facebook.com/dominick.vila.1 Dominick Vila

        Yes, cost of living in Europe and Japan is much higher than in the USA and that is precisely my point, why can those countries in spite of their high salaries, extremely generous social programs, and high cost of living compete and prosper and we can’t?
        I was a corporate manager before I retired, and participated in several bargaining unit negotiations on behalf of the company I represented. I am neither in favor nor against organized labor, even though I recognize that their ability to negotiate higher wages and better benefits for their members and that by doing that they helped increase the price of oour products and services to the point that we are no longer competitive. Again, how come other industrialized nations with similar labor costs can compete and grow and we can’t? Could it be a reliance on volume rather than high markups? The fact that their shareholders are satisfied with much lower returns than ours get?
        The implementation of a COLA system would help since it would address the disparity of cost of living between regions and between rural and urban areas in the USA.
        The biggest problem I have with the constant anti-union and anti-labor attacks by the GOP is that they never provide specifics or solutions. Are they proposing lower wages, the elimination or curtailment of overtime, company provided healthcare insurance, paid vacation, paid sick leave? What exactly do they propose to cut? We will never know the answer to that because if they provide specifics the number of votes they get would be on a negative scale.

      • Kokogene

        two things are happening with you, that blinds your eye’s to the poor and middleclass workers! #1 it’s clear you don’t work for minimum wage, because that is not a living wage, it’s a slave wage!#2 is that being a part of corporate America, you would speak against a fare wage to keep your pockets fat with cheap labor!

        • http://www.facebook.com/warren.nicholson.77 Warren Nicholson

          A couple of points that both Dominick and Toko missed in compairing wages between the US and Europe/Japan. One reason is the excessive high pay for management in this counrty. In Japan there is a maxime pay law that keeps the CEO pay at 35 times the lowest wage in the company. The other point I would like to make is that if the minum wage was high enough, then everone could pay income taxes and Mitt would care about them.

          • tokoloshi27

            Warren; you kind of have a point on maximum CEO salaries, the problem is, does this include the incentives, bonuses and other perqs which would be difficult to track and benchmark, given our lawyer-heavy system.

            The stated reason why our Executive salaries are so high is the “competitive” nature of those positions (according to those describing the current system) – naturally any Monday morning quarterback could probably do as well as they could but what governs is the surface perceptions in publicly traded companies. If you ‘have’ to pay someone like Ken Lay a lot of money it must mean he is in demand – which is the market’s only yardstick for future performance – until they crash-and-burn (like ENRON).

      • http://www.facebook.com/warren.nicholson.77 Warren Nicholson

        I have a sister teaching in Japan, she would disagree with you about the cost of living in that country and her wages are 4 times what she would get here. So maybe you should look at the high cost of management in this country.

    • oneMALEopinion

      The workers in the private sector left the unions a long time ago. They felt like they were being used to destroy companys. Working hand and hand with the democrats (progresives). First they would demand more money for wages then the democrates demanded more taxes. And as you said giving tax breaks for those who would leave the country. At the same time the goverment only bought from the lowest bider. That drove busnisess out of the country! This would provied a low price for bid contracts. While countries like japan got large tax breaks in this country. That’s why GM has trouble competing even now! So tax breaks are going both ways! 60% of the country should be getting 80-120k per year.That pays for vacations, kids collage,retirment, home repair,new car, all on a single income.That also makes more tax dollars for the state for schools,fire,police libraries parks and other state run facelitys,Right now 64% live in poverty. With 25% rich that only leaves 11% in middle income.If you want the middle class to get us out of this your about 25 yrs. to late! Are out come looks the same just another opinion why!!

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KOPKDFAUQPIIRAFI3HEXNMSHLQ Ed

        Can any make sense of this rant?

  • bcarreiro

    APPRECIATION goes along way. Minimum wage has increased 75 cents since 1999. standard of living has increased but the paychecks get smaller and smaller. the more well to do people get richer by not having to work for it at all while the poor have to work triple as hard struggling to put food on the table for not only themselves but their children. Ask the majority …who have gone without food to make ends meet. Stability and just being content is a pipe dream???

  • Mimi2kool

    It always amazes me that poor and working class vote for people who do not have their best interests at heart. The myth that the wealthy will add jobs if they are given more tax breaks has been shown to be a lie. All that they have done for the past few years has been to hang on to the money rather than hire more people.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dominick.vila.1 Dominick Vila

      In all fairness, they invested much of the revenue they got from the ill-conceived tax breaks…overseas!!!

    • oneMALEopinion

      Its not only the rich that create jobs! If the workers were paid more they create new jobs! But the rich can’t pay higher wages to the labor if you over tax them! They also need to give lower wages to the excutives. Put a price frezee on all products.Then equal out the wages this will also incress the value of the dollar. This will take years! But if done to fast will also kill the economy. Must be done slow no quick fix will work! WE need to get back to only one parent or spouse needing to work. That way if one dies the other won’t need welfair to survive!

      • http://www.facebook.com/dominick.vila.1 Dominick Vila

        In fact, the middle class is more likely to influence economic growth and job creation than billionaires. If a middle class family gets a $1K tax reduction that may be the difference between them buying a new car, replacing an old appliance, or going on a nice vacation. A $10M tax break to a billionaire is nothing more than an annoyance for their tax accountant, and would not influence their spending or investment strategies in any way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/don.larson.923 Don Larson

    The Minimum Wage is beyond Pathetic! Be aware that 24.6%, of those Americans still working in today’s Work Force, make $10, or LESS, an hour. This is beyond a National Disgrace. Yet, the Rich aren’t done beating on these people. BE AWARE THAT RYAN (ROMNEY’S RUNNING MATE), WANTS TO DO AWAY, ENTIRELY, WITH THE MINIMUM WAGE!

    FOLKS, PEOPLE HAVE NO FREEDOM WHEN THEY ARE ABUSED BY THE CAPTAINS OF INDUSTRY. THE AMERICAN WORKER IS NOT BEING FAIRLY REWARDED FOR THE FRUITS OF HIS/HER, LABOR! THEY ARE BEING EXPLOITED – - AND HAVE BEEN – - FOR 30 YEARS.

    NO ONE WITH HALF A BRAIN IS TALKING ABOUT, “EQUALITY,” IN THE WORK PLACE. THE OPERATIVE WORD IS, “EQUITY!” TREAT US FAIRLY – - REWARD US JUSTLY, SO WE CAN SUPPORT OUR FAMILIES!

    IT MATTERS LITTLE WHAT KIND OF ARGUMENTS ONE MAKES ABOUT A SUPPRESSED, MINIMUM WAGE. THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS THAT MORE AND MORE PEOPLE ARE WORKING AS SLAVES! HOW CAN ONE HAVE POLITICAL FREEDOM WITHOUT ECONOMIC FREEDOM? THE DISTORTIONS AND INEQUITIES THAT EXIST TODAY BETWEEN THE RICH AND POOR, ARE THE INGREDIENTS THAT SPUR REVOLUTION! ANYONE RECALL WHAT IT WAS THAT THOMAS JEFFERSON SAID ABOUT THE TYRANNY OF THE ELITE MINORITY?

  • oneMALEopinion

    When the goverment only buys cheep you get what you pay fore poverty! Bid contracts drove us to low wages for labor. (also greed) Take the high bid you steal from the tax payer. Take the low bid you steal from the labor. take the middle bid equal for all. Taking the low bid for 64yr created this unequlity.Thanx progessives!

  • http://www.facebook.com/wendy.gilson Wendy Gilson

    Obama is relected as president, it would be a great time to ask him up mimmum wage for american working people. This could help booste economy and get more americans back to work. Low wage job earner are making starting salary of over 8 dollars an hour. Personally do not see any reason why average working american, can’t get starting salary of minume wage at mabey 9.25 which could help economy. This could also help bring more americans back to work.

  • dtgraham

    Yesterday, John Stossel on Fox News argued for the elimination of the minimum wage. One of his arguments was —–wait for it—– that most businesses pay above $7.25 per hour now. Did it ever occur to him that 7.25 was a floor, below which they couldn’t go, and that was the reason. It’s common for low wage industries to pay a pittance above minimum to attract people. Without it, it’s highly likely that many people would get into a wage race to the bottom in order to compete for the job. It would probably end up looking like a page out of the Grapes of Wrath, with starting wages often being far, far, below $7.25 per hour. Worse yet, the new norm would surely bring down other low and semi skilled wages that get pegged to the minimum. If you’re now employing someone at $4.00 per hour, the employee who had been making $8.00 per hour won’t be making that wage for much longer. That is a certainty.

    I was aware of several wealthy, productive, European economies paying higher wages as per Dominick Vila’s post. I can also add another example from where I live. In my home Province in Canada, the minimum wage will be $10.50 per hour next month, up from $10.00 presently, and that’s about avg. nationally. If what they’re saying is true, there should be economic armagedden here…….should be. Actually the unemployment rate is 5.3%, (7.2% nationally) the inflation rate is 1.8%, (1.3% nationally) and we’ve been one of the leaders in GDP growth over the last 10 years among all Provinces.

    The scare tactics just don’t seem to bear out. I listened to Stossel and knew he was full of pure, unadulterated, bullcrap. If he isn’t, then why isn’t any of this happening where I live?

  • William Deutschlander

    The GREAT U S A DISGRACE, the minimum wage that will not sustain anyone!

  • http://www.facebook.com/don.larson.923 Don Larson

    Mimi2 and all,

    The Rich are now in the business of Extraction and Rent Seeking. That’s what free enterprise and free market capitalism means to them. Congress is no better. The two depend on each other, and feed off one another to retain their Power to Extract, Steal, AND GET RE-ELECTED!

    And, as for Pigs at the Government Trough; consider this: Corporate Welfare (financial subsidies and special favors); along with Wasteful Earmarks, total $200 Billion a year. THE REPUBLICANS JUST LOVE BUILDING BRIDGES TO NOWHERE. Guess which States receive the MOST PIG SLOP? WOULD THAT BE THE RED, OR BLUE STATES?! Check it out. A DISGRACE – - IN LIGHT OF HOW THE REPUBLICANS ARE ATTACKING THE 47%!

    Why are Republican States getting more Government Welfare than Democratic States? BECAUSE THEY ARE MANIPULATORS AND LIARS! THERE IS NO OTHER EXPLANATION! THEY ALSO HAVE THE POWER, WEALTH, AND INFLUENCE TO MAKE IT HAPPEN. THEIR MUTUAL ADMIRATION, CLOSED SOCIETY, IS DESTROYING OUR DEMOCRACY!

    We are witnessing the Rise of a Ruthless, and Tyrannical Oligarchy, that is, “hell bent,” on establishing lasting Dynasty’s by seizing wealth and power in the Country, by any means possible.

    The saddest, and most pathetic fact that exists currently; is that 25% of our Nation’s struggling poor (those making $25,000, or less a year; are supporting Romney. Is it Racism? Is it Emotional – - responds to all the hot buttons, like: freedom, flag, and apple pie? How could these lowly unfortunates, literally put the proverbial, Gun, to their own heads? Or, maybe these people are just plain, Stupid!

  • anyasnote

    Don’t expect anytime soon for the minimum wage to grow. EVERY Presidential Cnadidate voted nad also voiced his/hers opinion that it’s not a time to raise the wages. Including Ron Paul. He NEVER voted for it and he did say that raising minimum wage (along with Romney)it’s not right time. When is a right time??? They don’t have any answers. Even so , people will vote this people in to hold the highest office and thet get screwd in the process. That’s what happened when you cut education, you keeping them stupid, gullible and you do the thinking for them. Knowledge is power. We have only one power, our VOTE but used wisely maybe we can find a decent, patriotic , not for himself person that will have his/hers COUNTRY and it’s citizens at heart. Does any person exist? NO. Greed and power and hunger for fame and glory. Being President was awesome, I was famous.
    How do GOP see the MC.
    M- mindless, manipulated
    I-irrelevant, imbecile
    D-dumb
    D -down
    L – lazy
    E- expendable

    C- cheap
    L – low life
    A- a s..holes
    S-stoned and
    S – stupid

    P – poor patsies
    E – exploited
    O- obnoxious
    P – puppets &
    L- lemmings
    E -exploited

    R- Ridiculously rich
    O – one sided, obnoxious
    M- money hungry
    N – nobody
    E – exploiting
    Y – Yuppy

    R – Ridiculous
    Y- Yokel
    A -arrogant
    N – nitwit
    Don’t expect any wage increases and R/R will win – Money talks BS walk. You will have to work longer, your retirement will be increased to 67 before you get your voucher. Enjoy your new life starting Jan. 2013. You voted you got it , you will have to live with it. People got Bush and we had 8 yrs of wars and life lost, get ready for another war for Israel.
    They want US to do their dirty job. Congratulations will follow on your stupidity.

  • PingMan0843

    Even a basic understanding of economics would lead one to avoid minimum wage laws — people, over the long term, can not pay more than the value added brings. The idea of minimum wages has a noble intention but very bad unintended consequences. I used to support the idea of minimum wages but the evidence is in and it proves to be a bad idea. Raising the minimal wage just eliminates jobs for unskilled people because employers cannot afford to pay people more than their contribution is worth — only government can afford to do that and look at the result. The unintended consequence is preventing these people from gaining value work skills that would allow them to get into the labor force.

    When I was a kid, I had no trouble finding summer jobs — they didn’t pay much at all, but it was the only way I could get experience working for a boss — the work was physically demanding (working as helper on construction projects for example) and it often took pressure from my parents to stick it out. By the time my kids were at that age, there were very few of those entry jobs to be had. There were no jobs sweeping the store or stacking inventory because employers could not afford to pay minimum wages for that kind of work. The situation today is even worse — almost completely gone are the jobs that unskilled and/or teenage youth could have on weekends or summers to earn a little spending money and learn the discipline it takes to be a good employee.

    The best thing the Federal government could do is repeal this law and let the market determine what the value of the work is.

    • phantomoftheopera

      and if you believe that will create more, good paying jobs, i’ve got oceanfront property in arizona for sale. wanna buy it?

      seriously, all that will do is make the rich richer, the poor poorer, and workers 4 and 5 jobs to ‘live’ instead of just 2 or 3

      • PingMan0843

        I am really trying to understand your logic here. How do you think the value of a job is determined and by whom? What evidence do you have that government has any role in defining the value of a job? Don’t you see how by setting the minimum wage too high, employers just do away with these entry level jobs? Imagine you have $20 to have a tree trimmed, but the government says you must pay $40. What would you do? I would keep the money and do it myself and I think you would likely do the same.

        • phantomoftheopera

          too bad facts interfer with your opinion. check out dtgrahams comment.

          beyond that, there is a morality issue. what if the job is really worth $40? or at $20 you can’t feed your family? the government wouldn’t need to establish a minimum wage if employers did the “right thing” paying their employees. but they don’t. they want to maximize their bottom line, at the expense of their workers. you can bet they don’t decrease their own pay! and since most people need to work, someone will always be willing to take the lower pay. isn’t that what conservatives always claim is happening with the illegals? can’t have it both ways, people.

      • dtgraham

        PingMan says “let the market determine what the value of the work is.” Funny thing that. You’ve got workers in low wage countries making athletic shoes that sell in the developed world for $150.00-$200.00 a pair. Sure looks to me like they’re creating a lot of value, but they’re getting paid pennies an hour to do it.

        You can point out the higher wage wealthy European countries whose economies upset their ideological applecart, or even a neighbouring country whose minimum wage policies successfully break all of their libertarian rules, but it’s no use. It’s just a religion to these people. It doesn’t have to be true. It doesn’t even have to make sense. It can be shown to be demonstrably wrong, but it’s still right. Praise Ayn’s holy name.

    • http://www.facebook.com/douglas.wible Douglas Wible

      Jackass

  • Kansan

    In Kansas, the archenemies of working people, Charles and David Koch, working through the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and their bought and paid for legislators, managed to keep the state minimum wage at $2.65 an hour for 20 years. We finally got it raised to federal minimum a few years ago. Thanks to even more Koch money driving out Republican moderates, fat chance we’ll get a chance to raise it again, here in Brownbackistan, in my lifetime.

  • quasm

    Mr. Hightower;

    The most distressing effect of the minimum wage is that it keeps people who need to start in the labor market from having any job at all.

    Dik Thurston
    Colorado Springs

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UEMEO7RWYZGLXNEXYY6OECYO7I theeye

    While I find your words true about the low pay of the bottom third of the workforce, they can never escape the shakles of poverty, unless we scrap the minimum wage and replace it with the living wage. The minimum wage is designed to keep the poor that way forever. The living wage will lift the hard working low wage earner out of poverty and into dignity. The living wage is an average of costs to live in your area, it contains rent, utilities, food, transportation, education, health care, and possibly some savings. It is changed once a year by the cost of living average and raised of lowered by how much it rises or falls. This way the poor worker doesn’t have to beg congress for more money to get by. Waiting for action from congress sometimes takes many years and when they do get a raise in the minimum, it has already been taken by inflation. By paying our lowest paid workers more they will contribute more taxes, and reduce the burden of government payouts for food, housing, medical care, etc.

scroll to top