Archives

NC Budget and Tax Center

Last week voters in four states–Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota–approved minimum wage increases that will address in part the eroding value of their state’s minimum wage for workers earning at the lowest end of the wage distribution.  As of January 1st, at least 25 states will have minimum wages higher than the federal level of $7.25.

It turns out voters and state policymakers recognize that the wage floor must have some connection to what workers need to make ends meet and what wage conditions are in the labor market overall.

At Prosperity Watch this week, the Budget & Tax Center looked at the minimum wage to median wage ratio in North Carolina over time.  This ratio signals the strength of a minimum wage relative to local labor market conditions.  The lower the ratio, the fewer goods and services a worker can purchase for every additional hour worked. North Carolina’s minimum wage to median wage ratio fell from 64.4 percent in 1979 to 41.2 percent in 2013.  Find out more at Prosperity Watch here.

Commentary

raise the wageHere’s an issue that North Carolina conservatives are no doubt delighted isn’t on the ballot in the Old North State tomorrow (other than through the positions of the candidates): the minimum wage.

Steve Greenhouse of the New York Times explains in this article entitled “In State Voting on Minimum Wage, Even Critics Sound Like Supporters”:

In state after state, labor unions and community groups have pushed lawmakers to raise the minimum wage, but those efforts have faltered in many places where Republicans control the legislature.

Frustrated by this, workers’ advocates have bypassed the legislature and placed a minimum-wage increase on the ballot in several red states — and they are confident that voters will approve those measures on Tuesday.

In Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, binding referendums would raise the state minimum wage above the $7.25 an hour mandated by the federal government.

These measures are so overwhelmingly popular in some states, notably Alaska and Arkansas, that the opposition has hardly put up a fight.

Poll results in North Carolina on the issue are similarly encouraging. And while North Carolina is obviously not a ballot initiative state, it’s surprising that this issue hasn’t been more front and center in this fall’s election debate. Let’s hope that changes in 2015.

Commentary
Photo: NC State AFL-CIO

Photo: NC State AFL-CIO

Don’t you just love it when the business lobby and their toadies in the far right think tanks get all misty-eyed about the fate of those poor, poor workers who will supposedly be so much worse off if the minimum wage rises substantially?

You know the rap:

“Hey, it would be great if workers could make much higher wages in industries like fast food, but if they did, the employers would all go out of business and all those workers would be out of jobs. See, it’s those poor, minority kids we really care about. We’re fighting to keep the minimum wage low and maybe even do away with it for their sake.”

The next time someone lays this yarn on you, tell them to check out this article in yesterday’s New York Times about life as a fast food worker in Denmark.  As reporters Liz Alderman and Steve Greenhouse discovered, decent wages and the fast food industry are not at all mutually exclusive:

“On a recent afternoon, Hampus Elofsson ended his 40-hour workweek at a Burger King and prepared for a movie and beer with friends. He had paid his rent and all his bills, stashed away some savings, yet still had money for nights out.

That is because he earns the equivalent of $20 an hour — the base wage for fast-food workers throughout Denmark and two and a half times what many fast-food workers earn in the United States.

‘You can make a decent living here working in fast food,’ said Mr. Elofsson, 24. ‘You don’t have to struggle to get by.’”

Read More

News, The State of Working North Carolina
MaryBe McMillan

MaryBe McMillan of the N.C. AFL-CIO answers questions from some of the reporters in attendance prior to this morning’s rally in Raleigh.

About a hundred people gathered next to the Fallen Firefighters Memorial in downtown Raleigh this morning for a rally/press conference to help kick off a three-stop “#TalkUnion” tour that is being by state union and civil rights leaders. The tour will also feature a noon event in Greensboro at the Beloved Community Center at 417 Arlington Street and conclude with a 5:30 p.m. rally in Charlotte’s Marshall Park at 800 east 3rd Street. All are invited.

The event in Raleigh featured Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP and state AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer MaryBe McMillan as well as rank and file workers and leaders from the local faith community.  All spoke of the desperate need in North Carolina to raise wages for average workers and to halt and reverse the conservative policy agenda of the state’s current political leadership.

The claims of the various speakers were boosted this morning by the release of the latest “State of Working North Carolina” report by experts at the North Carolina Justice Center.

This is from a release that accompanied the new report:

  • Almost six out of every 10 new jobs created since the end of the recession are in industries that pay poverty-level wages, keeping workers trapped in poverty even when they are working full-time.
  • The growth in low-wage work is disproportionately impacting workers of color and women: 13.2 percent of women, 13.5 percent of African-Americans, and 23 percent of Latinos earn below the living income standard, compared to 9.7 percent of men and 9 percent of whites.
  • The persistence of higher unemployment rates for African-Americans is in part being driven by the greater labor force resiliency of African-American workers. Since the recession, African-Americans have not dropped out of the labor force at the same level as white workers.
  • There are approximately 260,000 North Carolina working families who live in poverty, with 12.8 percent of working families earning poverty wages.
  • 13 of 14 metro areas saw labor forces decline since June 2013. For eight metros, the decline in unemployment was driven by the unemployed moving out of the labor force rather into jobs.
  • Rural employment dropped 2.7 percent since the start of the recovery while the state’s large metropolitan areas have seen 6.5 percent job growth.

These data coincided neatly with Rev. Barber’s statement in announcing today’s tour in which he noted:

“While we honor our workers on Labor Day, we cannot ignore the policies and laws passed down from this North Carolina General Assembly that are attacking poor and working families. We believe North Carolinians who work 40 hours each week should be able to put food on their tables and buy school clothes for their children. The long fight for labor rights, for voting rights, for educational equality and for quality health care for all is not a fight between Republican and Democrat. It is a moral fight for the soul of the nation. That is why we are making this Labor Day a Moral Monday.”

Click here for more information on the #TalkUnion tour.”

Click here to read the entire “State of Working North Carolina” report.

News

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) doesn’t want to spend much time focused on all the speculation about whether he’ll make a run for the White House in 2016.  As we approach Labor Day, the 72-year-old wants to talk about the jobs deficit and stagnant wages.

The longest-serving Independent in Congressional history was in Raleigh this week for a town hall forum at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church.

In an interview with N.C. Policy Watch, Sanders spoke about the need for Congress (and individual states) to do more to help America’s shrinking middle class:

“The very bad news is that many of the new jobs that are being created are low wage jobs, part-time jobs. Median family income today is $5,000 less than it was in 1999. Our goal is obviously job creation, but it is also creating jobs that pay people a livable wage.”

As for conservative lawmakers who have suggested that it may be time to scrap minimum wage laws altogether, Sanders offers this assessment:

“Their belief is that we should abolish the concept of the minimum wage. And that means if you are in a high unemployment area, and you are desperate enough, yup, you’re going to have to work for three or four bucks an hour. That is a step toward feudalism,” explained Sanders. “It’s not just the minimum wage, it’s safety on the job, all types of child labor laws…these guys believe that ‘freedom’ means abolishing all of these laws and leaving working people at the mercy of whatever an employer wants to pay them, or how that employer will treat them.”

Sanders, who joins us this weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon, also shares his thoughts on dark money in politics, the need for campaign finance reform, and new efforts to improve  veterans’ health care.

For a preview of that radio interview, click below. For more on North Carolina’s Living Income Standard, click here.
YouTube Preview Image