Thursday, May 24, 2018
Opinion

A minimum wage that beats poverty

"I grew up hearing over and over, to the point of tedium, that 'hard work' was the secret of success. … No one ever said that you could work hard — harder even than you ever thought possible — and still find yourself sinking ever deeper into poverty and debt."

Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.

House Speaker John Boehner sat on his hands during the State of the Union address as President Barack Obama called for raising the minimum wage, demonstrating how little he and his party care about the struggles of average people. Here is a chance to make work pay a little better so families can translate personal industry into financial rewards, and Boehner sits like a lump, signaling to his Republican colleagues that this isn't happening as long as he's in charge of the tee times.

Aren't conservatives always going on about the toll income taxes have on the initiative of people in higher income brackets? High taxes are a disincentive to working longer and earning more, they say. And don't those same economic rules apply to people in low income brackets? Give people the opportunity to make a real living at a job and they will work more. They won't need public assistance. They will pay taxes. All it takes is a slight adjustment to the formula of how much revenue goes to owners and bosses and how much goes to the people who get their hands dirty.

Only government can make this happen since the private sector won't. People at the low end know from tough experience that since the 1980s America's old chestnut about working hard and getting ahead no longer applies. From 1989 to 2010, real wages for high school-educated workers in the private sector grew by just 4.8 percent, even as U.S. productivity grew by 62.5 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute. The income from those productivity gains went to people at the top, who apparently forgot to trickle it down.

America's social immobility problem was starkly illustrated in Ehrenreich's book. During 1999 and 2000, Ehrenreich tried to see what it was like to live on $7 an hour. She was a server in Key West, a nursing home aide in Portland, Maine, and a sales clerk at a Walmart in Minneapolis. What Ehrenreich found is you can't work full-time with wages that low and stabilize your life. She could afford to live only in the worst places like rented hotel rooms and rundown trailer parks. Some of her co-workers coped by living in their cars.

The book was originally published in 2001 but since then prospects for service workers haven't improved. The reason is politics. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce fiercely opposes minimum wage increases. In Boehner's Republican-controlled House a raise in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 and indexing it to inflation, as Obama proposes, has about as much chance of passing as a testament to Emma Goldman.

Critics claim that raising the minimum wage results in job losses. Bill Herrle, executive director of National Federation of Independent Business/Florida, called it a "job killer." Recent research doesn't bear that out. Economists at EPI say modestly raising the federal minimum wage "would create jobs" throughout the nation by getting money to families who would spend it and stimulate the economy. And the raise Obama is contemplating is modest. It would bring the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage to 1981 levels. (Florida's minimum wage is $7.79 as of 2013.)

Making every job a good job is doable. There is no dearth of restaurants in western Europe yet somehow all those restaurateurs manage to pay their servers a living wage. As travel book author Rick Steves advises, "European servers are well paid, and tips are considered a small 'bonus' — to reward great service." Compare that to tipped workers in America where the federal minimum wage of $2.13 per hour has not budged since 1991, which tells you why the restaurant industry employs seven of the 11 lowest paying occupations in the country.

"No one who works full time should have to live in poverty," Obama said in urging Congress to pass the wage boost. Too bad Boehner plans to sit the problem out.

Comments

NFL kneels before the altar of profits

The owners of the 32 National Football League teams sent a wrongheaded and, frankly, un-American message to their players Wednesday: Expressing your opinion during the national anthem is no longer permitted."A club will be fined by the League if its ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Editorial: Trump right to cancel North Korea talks on nuclear weapons

Editorial: Trump right to cancel North Korea talks on nuclear weapons

Regardless of the reason, the cancellation of the U.S.-North Korea summit to address Pyonyang’s nuclear program is hardly the worst possible outcome of this high-stakes diplomatic gamble. President Donald Trump was unprepared, North Korea’s Kim Jong ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Legislation that waters down the 2010 Dodd-Frank law and was sent to President Donald Trump this week is a mixed bag at best. Some provisions recognize that Congress may have gone too far in some areas in the wake of the Great Recession to place new ...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/24/18

Another voice: The chutzpah of these men

A new phase of the #MeToo movement may be upon us. Call it the "not so fast" era: Powerful men who plotted career comebacks mere months after being taken down by accusations of sexual misconduct now face even more alarming claims.Mario Batali, the ce...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/23/18
Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital has begun the important work of rebuilding trust with its patients and the community following revelations of medical errors and other problems at its Heart Institute. CEO Dr. Jonathan Ellen candidly acknowledges...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/23/18
Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18