Boosting Low Pay

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Protesters rally for higher pay in front of a McDonald's, Wednesday, April 15, 2015, in New York. 

Widening inequality in America has its roots in several trends but is driven primarily by unequal earnings. In this package of articles, five authors address the pressure on middle- and working-class income—and strategies for reversing the trend.

In a highly original essay, Harold Meyerson assesses the chilling parallels between the role played by the slave South in both the 19th-century global economy and the U.S. political economy—and the similar, wage-depressing influence of the South today.

Robots are one more threat to jobs and pay levels. As economist Jeffrey Sachs explains, automation in a laissez-faire economy indeed produces that result. However, with the right public policies, robots can relieve a lot of human toil and spread wealth and leisure. 

Three companion pieces focus on organizing. They explore the rise of unions in three key sectors, two of them long considered middle-class bastions but now vulnerable to the same pressures to depress earnings. Rachel Cohen tells how labor organizing is coming to charter schools. Justin Miller recounts unionization among university adjunct professors. And Heather Rogers completes the package with an examination of depressed wages among home-care workers. Taken together, these pieces shed light on the dynamics of low-wage America, and the necessary blend of labor organizing, politics, and policy to achieve greater earnings equality.

Elsewhere in this issue, three other articles demonstrate the drag of Third World exploitation—in the global garment industry (page 74), in migrant labor abuses (page 14), and in trade deals designed for corporations, not workers (page 56). 

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