Daily Meme: 'Tis the Season to Be Depressed about Low Wages

  • It's officially the holiday season, which means that many Americans are thinking about flooding stores to spend gobs of cash ... or wishing they had the money to go on a shopping spree and working a few extra shifts instead. Which means 'tis the season to talk about the minimum wage. 
  • Better late than never. Currently, half of American employees make less than $26,000 annually. 
  • As Alan Pyke at ThinkProgress points out, "If the minimum wage had grown at the same rate as the earnings of the top one percent of Americans the federal wage floor would be more than triple the current hourly minimum of $7.25. Instead, the minimum wage has been lower than a poverty wage ever since 1982."
  • Another history lesson: "If you look back at America 30 years ago," according to Robert Reich, "most of your minimum wage workers were teenagers, or they were women who didn't have to work but actually had some spare time. Today, your typical low-wage or even minimum-wage worker is an adult over 25 years old. Twenty-five percent of those low-wage workers have children."
  • "Since 2000, the number of fast-food jobs in New York City has increased by more than 50 percent—10 times as fast as in any other type of private job."
  • Richard Trumka and Christine Owen also note that "all the wage increases over the past 15 years have gone to the wealthiest 10 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute. All of them. And almost all, 95 percent, of the income gains from 2009 to 2012, the first three years of recovery from the Great Recession, went to the very richest 1 percent."
  • It's the gulf between the gains made for our nation's wealthiest since the recession and the tumbles taken by the poorest that's the most frustrating part of low wages. As Rachel Swarns puts it in the Times, "The stock market is booming. The tech sector is thriving. New York is generating tens of thousands of new jobs, more than most big cities, labor statistics show. Yet the bulk of the new jobs are low-wage jobs in sectors like retail, restaurants and home health care, many without benefits or opportunities for advancement."
  • There's been some movement on the local level to raise wages past the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Twenty-one states and D.C. currently exceed the federal minimum.
  • One movement is fighting to raise the minimum wage of fast-food workers to $15-an-hour. The groups orchestrating the fight plan to strike on Thursday in 100 cities.
  • The fast-food industry is perhaps the best place to get the minimum wage-hike momentum going. Sixty percent of low-wage workers are working in sales or food service.
  • It's mostly Democrats who are pushing for higher wages for those who make the least in the United States—with some notable exceptions.
  • The argument for a higher minimum-wage should in theory appeal to both liberal and conservative ideologies, as steeped as the idea is in the Ken Burnsian high our country gets in the memory of a job well done. Steve Coll sums it up best"The case for a strong minimum wage has always been, in part, civic and moral. Minimum wages do not create new 'entitlement' programs or otherwise enjoin the country’s sterile debates about the value of government. They are designed to insure that the dignity of work includes true economic independence for all who embrace it."

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