(Photo: AP/Lynne Sladky) Protesters, part of the national Fight for 15 movement, applaud in support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour at a church in Miami in April. An earlier, shorter version of this article appeared in The Washington Post . L abor Day is upon us, marking an end to summertime, when the livin’ is easy and Americans take their well-earned vacations. Well, some Americans. About 56 percent of American workers took weeklong vacations last summer—a new low-point in a steady decline that began in early 1980s, when more than 80 percent took weeklong vacations. That depressing bit of news is of a piece, alas, with everything else we know about the declining fortunes of American workers. As the Economic Policy Institute documented in report released Wednesday, productivity rose by 72.2 percent and median hourly compensation (that’s wages plus benefits) by just 8.7 percent between 1973 and 2014. As the National Employment Law Project reported in a study released the...
AP Photo/John Minchillo Republican presidential candidates from left, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and John Kasich take the stage for the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday, August 6, 2015, in Cleveland. W ell, now at least we know where the Republican candidates stand on the minimum wage, paid sick days, student debt, climate change, CEO pay, and four decades of American wage stagnation. Just kidding. Somehow, the Fox News questioners never quite got around to asking the candidates what they planned to do to help actual existing Americans cope with a profoundly rigged economy and a climate growing annoyingly inhospitable to living things. Then again, the candidates were asked what God would want them to do on their first day in office, other than repeal Obamacare and invade Iran, and they could have used the occasion to talk about minimum wages and heat waves,...
Today’s New York Times features a front-page story on Chinese textile firms opening new factories not in China but in the American South. With the steep rise in the wages of Chinese workers and the stagnation (at best) of the wages of American workers—Southern workers most particularly—and with the higher levels of productivity and lower energy costs that U.S. factories enjoy, it actually is cheaper to manufacture in Dixie than it is in Guandong.
The Times article echoes my piece in the current issue of the Prospect, in which German union leaders on the boards of that nation’s auto and aerospace manufacturers stated that it was cheaper for their companies to operate low-wage assembly plants in the South than it was in China. What the Times piece doesn’t echo is the thesis of my article: that low Southern wages have had the effect of bringing down wage levels across the nation, both in manufacturing and in retail (for which Walmart’s move north, while maintaining Southern wage levels, is largely responsible).
There’s nothing wrong in the Times piece not looking at the macroeconomic consequences of the story it documents; that would entail writing and editing an entirely different article. Where the Times piece fails on its own terms, however, is in omitting any reporting on the wages paid to the workers in the Chinese-owned factory in South Carolina that is the subject of the article. The piece does report that local residents are “desperate for work, even at depressed wages,” but it neglects to specify with a dollar figure just how depressed those wages are. It does cite the national average for manufacturing wages, but that’s an average that runs from, say, skilled operators of sophisticated machinery at Boeing’s plant in Seattle to, it’s probably safe to assume, workers like the employees at the South Carolina textile factory that is the subject of the Times piece.
The article further omits the fact that South Carolina is one of five states never to have passed a minimum-wage statute, or that the rate of unionization there is 2.2 percent—the second-lowest in the nation. It omits the nationwide effects of low Southern manufacturing wages—one of a number of factors that contributed to the 4.4 percent decline in the median U.S. manufacturing wage between 2003 and 2013, and a leading factor in the decline of the hourly wage differential between all Midwestern and Southern workers (not just those in manufacturing) from $7 to $3.34 between 2008 and 2011, according to Moody’s Analytics.
Still, missing the broader implications of its own story is one thing. Missing the key fact of what the workers’ pay is in the very factory the piece reports on is something else—particularly at a moment when the Times is increasingly running stories on the stagnant or declining wage levels of the vast majority of American workers. Don’t the reporter and editors who worked on this otherwise commendable story ever read the Times?
Republican strategists surely breathed a sigh of relief Thursday when the South Carolina legislature voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from the State Capitol. But it wasn’t long before Republican lawmakers began stepping on the story of the new GOP racial sensitivity not once, not twice, not even thrice, but four (4) times.
Just as Palmetto State solons were recognizing that continuing to identify themselves with the cause of slavery 150 years after the end of the Civil War was probably a bad idea, their federal counterparts—white Southern Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives—were vociferously seeking to undo an amendment that had earlier passed the House by voice vote. The amendment forbade the National Park Service from buying merchandise from merchants who sell Confederate paraphernalia, and banned national military cemeteries from providing Confederate gravesite flags to slavery nostalgiacs.
The Confederacy finally surrenders in South Carolina but reflexively rises again, like Dr. Strangelove's arm, in the Republican congressional delegation.
Elsewhere this week, clearly trying to change the subject, GOP sort-of-frontrunner Jeb Bush proclaimed that, "Americans need to work longer hours." In fairness, he was talking about those Americans involuntarily relegated to part-time jobs, so the sentiment he voiced was one that the left could readily share. Nonetheless, when a non-trivial number of Americans look at Jeb Bush, they already discern the next Mitt Romney. Bush's Whoops Moment merely confirmed their view.
Meanwhile, in remarks NOT taken out of context, Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander authored a Wall Street Journal op-ed column earlier this week contending—not as a passing apercu but as the thesis of the piece—that college is actually affordable.
You can't make this stuff up.
And to close out the week's GOP outreach campaign, a PPP poll released Thursday showed that the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination among North Carolina Republicans is—you guessed it—the Donald.
Just keep saying, the problem with Republicans is Republicans, and you won't go wrong.