Commentary

Last week was great for workers, just not here

Last week was great for workers—if you live in California or New York. Not so much for workers here in North Carolina.

Starting with wages, California and New York just put more than 60 million workers into the $15 an hour minimum wage economy, joining 24 other states with minimum wages higher than the Federal minimum wage.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo just signed into law a measure raising the state’s minimum wage to well above the current Federal level of $7.25 an hour. In an innovative step to address business concerns, the plan phased in minimum wage increases over time, creating faster timetables in economically booming areas of the state and slower phase-ins for struggling rural areas of the state. Workers will see their wage floor rise to $15 an hour by 2019 in New York City and by 2022 in neighboring Long Island and Westchester County. The state’s rural counties will raise their minimum wage to $12.50 an hour by 2021 and to $15 an hour over a yet-to-be-established timetable.

Under the leadership of Governor Jerry Brown, California passed a straightforward, statewide minimum wage increase to $15 an hour by 2022. To give businesses time to adapt, the wage floor will increase from $10 an hour to $10.50 an hour next year, and then by a dollar an hour through 2022, and small businesses—those with less than 25 employees have an extra year to meet these wage standards.

Both of these bills recognize that paying workers enough afford the basics is good for the economy. It lets workers earn enough to buy groceries, pay the rent, put gas in the care and the kids in daycare—all of which boosts sales at local businesses. In turn, rising sales mean bigger business profits and more hiring, a virtuous cycle that helps workers and strengthens businesses. And as an added bonus, the staggered phase-in of these wage increases gives these businesses time to adapt.

But the good news for non-Tarheel Worker didn’t stop with a new minimum wage. Both New York State and the City of San Francisco also enacted innovative paid family medical leave policies. In San Francisco, the City now requires that all workers—including same-sex couples— receive six full weeks of job-protected, paid leave to welcome the birth or adoption of a new child. Up to 55 percent of the workers’ wages will be replaced by the state’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program, while employers are now expected to contribute the remaining 45 percent.

On April 1, New York State joined California, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Washington as the fifth state to enact a paid family medical leave program, allowing millions of workers to receive two-thirds of their monthly income while taking up to 12 weeks paid leave by 2021.

But the good news for workers in other states did not extend to North Carolina. Instead, Tarheel workers learned that their Governor and state legislature killed North Carolina’s 35-year-old basic anti-discrimination protections.

Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Focus on wages to ensure the future of work works for all North Carolinians

The Institute for Emerging Issues wrapped up its forum on the future of work yesterday. The forum brings together leaders from across the state each year to discuss issues of importance to the well-being of the state. This year the topic was the future of work– the ways in which automation and technology are changing how we work and the relationship between workers, employers, consumers and communities.

Despite the projections and well-intentioned guesses about what the future will bring, no one knows for sure what the outcome will be.  What we do know is what we do today can support better economic outcomes for more families, businesses and communities in the state.  Research is clear that wage growth and public policy will be key to ensuring that the future of work has the number and quality of jobs that can boost the economy for everyone.

If this sounds familiar, it should. North Carolina’s wage problem is front and center in the daily lives of workers and the communities where they live today.  Without wages that ensure workers can provide for the basics and spend locally, employers struggle to see the demand for goods and services that allow them to expand and communities are challenged to support the opportunities that build the long-term potential for children’s economic success as adults.  North Carolina’s uneven recovery and elevated hardship today are indicators of what happens when policy doesn’t focus on wages or the ways in which all communities can connect to economic opportunity.

On the first day, a panel of policymakers, Senator Chad Barefoot and Speaker Tim Moore, were joined by Rick Glazier with the North Carolina Justice Center and John Hood with the John Locke Foundation to discuss just where policy can ensure that the future of work delivers greater opportunity and shared prosperity.

John Hood highlighted the critical goal of ensuring that workers have the “capital” to meet their needs and make investments that support advancement of themselves, their families and build assets in their community.  This is indeed the goal and a broadly shared one that is the concern of the vast majority of North Carolinians. A workers’ ability to make ends meet and spend is what the economy needs to function well and expand.  That is why a focus on boosting wages and what communities need to do so, not on reducing the size of government, is needed.

The solutions are readily available to North Carolina policymakers today. They are proven ones that will strengthen the economy for the future. To grow wages, North Carolina must: Read more

Commentary

Physician calls on the “haves” to join the fight for living wages

Dr. Aparna Jonnal, an Orange county physician, has a great essay over on Blue NC today that serves as an apt follow-up to Miriam Thompson’s fine op-ed that ran in Raleigh’s News & Observer last month. The subject: the societal imperative to combat poverty with living wages and the critical need for even those who wouldn’t benefit directly to join in the fight.

This is from Dr. Jonnal’s post:

“As a doctor, I learn about people’s lives in an intimate way. I can easily say that the greatest obstacle to health that I have seen is poverty. So many of my patients have been very poor, crushingly poor where they have to choose between basic necessities such as food and heat, where there is no chance for them to buy presents for their children, where they lie awake at night wondering if they will have a roof over their heads the next day. And most of them are working.

In fact, being a doctor has often been disappointing because I have to prescribe treatments that people cannot afford, and I have to treat symptoms of problems that have their roots in poverty. This is what led me to work on raising wages for working people, but this fight is a long, hard one. In my years of working toward economic justice, I have only seen the wage and wealth gap grow, and the conditions for low-wage workers plummet. I hear presidential hopefuls talking about the importance of raising wages and raising taxes on the wealthy but none of this will happen without many, many of us working toward these ends on our own.

This struggle should not fall solely upon the shoulders of low-wage working people. Ms. Thompson wisely writes that we all have ‘…the awesome responsibility to challenge the current economic environment.’ I wholeheartedly agree, and believe that the lion’s share of this responsibility is actually on the shoulders of those of us with higher paying jobs.”

Jonall concludes by asking folks of all income levels to become engaged in the Fight for 15 movement. Click here to learn more about that outstanding cause.

Commentary

Points to help you talk turkey on Thanksgiving

In case you missed it, the good folks at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center have prepared a nice contribution for your Thanksgiving potluck — a series of talking points to help you converse with your less-well-informed dinner companions. Enjoy!

Here are some key facts to throw out there as you pass the gravy boat and say “yes, please” to a second – or third – piece of pecan pie.

WHEN THEY SAY: “We need to attract more businesses to relocate here if we want North Carolina to grow. Cutting taxes, regulations, and unemployment insurance and not expanding Medicaid is the best way to do that.”

YOU SAY: First of all, it’s really people like you and me, consumers, who create jobs. Businesses hire when they see a demand for their products, so job creation really starts with making sure we earn a good living and feel secure enough to spend.

Even if we’re talking about where large companies choose to invest, state taxes just aren’t that big of a deal. You have to turn a profit before you pay taxes, so that’s what companies are thinking about first and foremost. Most companies look for educated workers, a good transportation system, and a place that their employees want to live before they think about taxes.

If North Carolina is going to do better, we need to focus on policies that will make everyone feel more economically secure.

WANT TO READ MORE? BTC Policy Basic: The Reality of Tax Cuts

WHEN THEY SAY: “The Carolina Comeback is real! Clearly these policies are working.”

YOU SAY: (Stage directions optional): The Carolina Comeback sounds nice but it’s not the reality for most North Carolinians and communities in our state.

First off, it’s a U.S. comeback, nothing special to North Carolina. We went into the recession as a country, and the recovery has happened nationwide. Read more

Commentary

Workers raising their voices today at the White House and the N.C. Legislative Building

Average working people will be raising their voices today to demand their fair share of the nation’s economic pie. As the good people at the AFL-CIO remind us:

Today is the day for the White House Summit on Worker Voice. Starting at 10:30 a.m. ET, you can watch the summit live right here. The summit is designed to bring together working people, labor leaders, advocates, employers, members of Congress, state and local officials and others to explore ways to make sure that working people are sharing in the benefits of economic growth and have access to a voice on the job.

To learn more about the summit, visit the official White House website.

Meanwhile, workers in North Carolina will gather at the state Legislative Building in Raleigh for the first “People’s Wage Board.” Here are the details:

The Fight for $15 and a union will convene a forum at the state legislature on October 7th to take testimony from workers and supporters and to call for the creation of a “People’s Wage Board” to advocate for raising wages in North Carolina.

What: Underpaid workers testify
When: Wednesday, October 7, 2015 at noon
Where: NC General Assembly Building – 3rd Floor Auditorium, 16 W Jones Street, Raleigh, NC 27601

From the Facebook event page:

Inspired by fast food workers in New York who for years organized, and took bold action that encouraged Governor Cuomo and his appointed Wage Board to recommend $15 an hour by 2020, underpaid workers in North Carolina are coming together to call on elected officials to give us a much needed raise to what we deserve: $15 an hour!

Home healthcare workers, fast food workers, child care workers, community members, and NC State Representative Yvonne Holley are putting together ‘A People’s Wage Board’ to record testimony from underpaid workers at the North Carolina Legislature.

The fastest growing jobs are also the lowest paid. With industries like fast food making $200 billion a year, we know the companies we work for can afford to pay us a living wage of $15 an hour so that we have enough to care for our families.

Stand with us as we call on elected officials to do the right thing, give struggling workers a raise so that we can lift up North Carolina!