Robyn E. Blumner

Democratic presidents mean better wages

During Hillary Clinton's gracious concession speech she mentioned that during the 40 years that she's been involved in politics and public life the country has voted 10 times for president, with a Democrat winning the seat only three times.

"Just think how much more progress we could have made over the past 40 years," Clinton said, "if we had a Democratic president."

From the perspective of protecting the environment, expanding access to health care, promoting a progressive energy policy and even fiscal responsibility, I agree with this statement. But it was interesting to read an analysis by Larry Bartels, a professor of politics at Princeton, bearing this out in hard numbers for the daily-grind worker.

Bartels found that the real incomes of middle-class families grew more than twice as fast when Democrats were in the White House than when a Republican was president. And for the working poor, their real incomes grew six times as fast under a Democratic president.

In his analysis of six decades of available economic data, Bartels allowed one year for the economic policies of each president to get in gear. He said that the only group for whom partisan politics had little impact was the affluent. Their fortunes grew healthily regardless of party in power.

Bartels, who wrote Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, found that income would be more equal today than in the 1950s had our national prosperity been shared under Republican presidents as it was under Democrats. Instead, our nation is increasingly one of haves and have-nots, mired in income inequality more severe than at any time since the days of robber barons.

This is no surprise in light of the parties' differing views of workers and their rights. One dependable way for employees at the lower end of the income scale to demand a piece of increased productivity and profits is through joining unions or threatening to do so. Democrats traditionally are supportive of this while Republicans are generally hostile.

While it is true that regardless of who has resided in the White House, rates of unionization have markedly declined over the last 40 years, it is also true that helping unions and workers succeed is a central tenet of the Democratic Party.

Contrast that with the administration of President Bush, who has unleashed government to hobble unions and their organizing efforts. In just one illuminating example, Bush's 2009 budget request seeks 100 times more money to regulate unions than to ensure that employers follow wage and hour laws and other labor protections. In dollars per regulated entity, Bush has budgeted $2,500 per union and union local and only $26 per employer, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Republican antipathy toward labor was also reflected in the lopsided vote on the Employee Free Choice Act, a measure that would help to neutralize the union-busting tactics of employers. In 2007, it passed the House with nearly every Democrat voting for it and 183 Republicans against, and died in the Senate due to Republican opposition.

Yet, a new report by John Schmitt, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, finds that unionization would bring a double-digit pay premium to at least 60 percent of America's workforce. Looking at national data for the years 2003 to 2007, the study concludes that unionization raises the income of the typical low-wage worker by 20.6 percent, and that of the median-wage worker by 13.7 percent.

The next election is momentous for the future of our nation in more ways than can be listed. But I believe it will seal the fate of the American worker. A Democrat in the White House is a vital step toward making us a fair country again, countering what we have become: a nation with a small cadre of investor-class winners and a vast population of struggling wage earners, with little ground left to lose.

Democratic presidents mean better wages 06/14/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 19, 2008 9:45am]

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