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Winsotn-Salem teach-inThe demonstration against the North Carolina legislature’s voter suppression law, organized by the NAACP and Moral Monday movement last Monday in Winston-Salem, was a stirring reminder that, fifty years after the Voting Rights Act, civil rights cannot be taken for granted in this country. But the organizers of the day’s event also called attention to another disturbing trend, one that is closely connected to civil rights: the war on poor people, particularly those who find themselves in the most precarious jobs of our economy’s service sector.

A teach-in on economic justice, facilitated by the NAACP, was held on Monday afternoon at Goler Memorial AME Zion Church. Ben Wilkins of Raise Up for 15 launched the discussion by emphasizing that voter suppression laws are aimed not only at minorities, but at poor people.

To emphasize this point, Wilkins quoted Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech of March 25, 1965, in which Dr. King observed that “segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land…[T]he southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. … And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man.” Read More

Commentary

Notwithstanding the latest oblivious comments of Crown Prince Jeb, the drumbeat demanding a significant increase in the national minimum wage continues to grow louder and louder — both at the grassroots level and in the world of data and research.

Confirmation of the latter can be found in two news studies highlighted last week by the wonks at the Economic Policy Institute.

In study #1, researchers at the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics found that pay for average American workers is and has been stagnant. As EPI President Lawrence Mishel explained in a post last week:

“Their analysis confirms that there has been very broad-based stagnant pay whether one examines just wages or a more comprehensive compensation measure that also incorporates changes in health, pension, and other benefits. The bottom 80 percent of workers had stagnant or declining hourly compensation while the bottom 88 percent of workers had stagnant or declining wages.”

Study #2 comes from EPI’s David Cooper. Here are the key findings:

  • A $12 minimum wage in 2020 would undo the erosion in value of the minimum wage that took place largely in the 1980s. It would also reverse the growth in wage inequality between low-and middle-wage workers over the past generation.
  • Raising the minimum wage to $12 by 2020 would directly or indirectly lift wages for 35.1 million workers—more than one in four U.S. workers. Read More
Commentary
Image: www.thinkprogress.org

Image: www.thinkprogress.org

Here’s an question that most healthy, able-bodied people have probably never spent much time considering: How much should the people who help others to get dressed, shower and use the toilet get paid?

According to the present-day “genius of the market,” the answer is: “not much.” Home care workers in our society – many of them women and people of color, of course — are pretty much treated as a disposable commodity. Pay is low, benefits are minimal to non-existent, hours can be long and challenging and the work is frequently difficult.  The results of this situation are predictable: the quality of care provided is frequently uneven and turnover in the profession is high.

In the coming weeks and months, The Progressive Pulse will feature a series of posts by folks directly affected by this hard and often absurd reality. It is our hope that by shining a light on some of these real life stories, we can begin to inspire the public and policymakers to bring the issue out into the light. We welcome constructive comments, suggestions and contributions.

The first story comes from a Winston-Salem mother and grandmother named Mary Bartholomew.

Better wages crucial for home care workers – and for those in need of care
By Mary Bartholomew

I am a breast cancer survivor with a number of other ongoing health problems, including chronic lung disease. I have been assessed as fully disabled since 1986, and like many seniors I live on a fixed income. Having COPD leaves me with no energy and makes physical tasks difficult, so it’s very important to me to have home care assistance. I am granted 20 hours of home care help through a provider agency. My current caregiver has been wonderful, but she too is moving on and now it’s up to me to find someone new to help.

The trouble is that provider agencies only pay home care workers $9 an hour. It’s very challenging to find someone qualified who is willing to work for that wage and for such limited hours. Those who do take the jobs are struggling to support their own families and eventually have to move on to another line of work. When you add it all up, this means I have a hard time finding a consistent caregiver, and sometimes have no help at all when I most critically need it.

I want to stay in my home. It is far more comfortable and far less expensive for me to stay here than to move to a nursing home. My daughter has two very active teenage sons, and I want them to be able to visit me and spend time with me at home. However, in order to stay I need more consistent care. I’m fortunate to have a provider agency that cares about my needs, but they can only do as much as the law mandates. One of the best ways to improve the quality and consistency of home care is to improve caregiver wages. It’s time to fix this problem so that people needing home care – and those providing it – can live out their lives with dignity.

NC Budget and Tax Center

I recently noted the differing approaches of President Obama and Congress regarding tax changes, developing a budget and supporting the economy. In particular, I noted Congress’ push to eliminate the federal estate tax – which applies to very large inheritances by a small group of wealthy heirs.

Over the years, the amount of inheritance that is exempt from the federal estate tax has increased exponentially while efforts to raise the minimum wage in line with the growing costs of meeting basic needs have stalled.

In 2001, the federal minimum wage was $5.15 an hour and remained at that level until 2008 when it was increased to $5.85 an hour and then to $7.25 in 2010, where it remains today. On this issue, North Carolina has not differed from federal law, with a state minimum wage of $7.25 as well.

By contrast, in 2001, the amount of estate inheritance that could be exempt from the federal estate tax was $625,000. By 2008, this exemption amount increased to $2 million and for 2015 the exemption amount is $5.43 million. In 2013, North Carolina state lawmakers completely eliminated the state’s estate tax (only 23 North Carolina taxpayers paid an estate tax for the 2012 tax year). In the same year state lawmakers eliminated the state Earned Income Tax Credit, which helped more than 900,000 low- and moderate-income taxpayers who earn low wages keep more of what they earn to offset an already regressive state tax system. Read More

Commentary

Many North Carolina workers are locked in low-wage jobs that don’t pay enough to make ends meet, even though they’re working full-time. Over the long-term, state lawmakers need to implement a comprehensive strategy that creates pathways out of this low-wage economy. But right now, they can provide an immediate boost to working families by increasing the minimum wage from the current level of $7.25 an hour. Raising the wage floor would put more money in the pockets of workers, increase sales for local businesses, and strengthen the state’s overall economic performance, without increasing unemployment, according to a new fact sheet released by the Justice Center yesterday.

Most importantly, raising the minimum wage benefits adult workers and their families, providing a critical antidote to the ongoing boom in low-wage jobs. Almost 6 out of every 10 new jobs created since the end of the recession are in industries that pay poverty-level wages. More than 80 percent of new jobs created since 2009 don’t pay enough to cover life’s necessities, including housing, healthcare, groceries, and gas costs. Raising the minimum wage would make the difference between destitution and self-sufficiency for thousands of workers on the bottom rung of the state’s labor market.

One critical effect of raising the minimum wage for these low-income workers is the boost to the entire economy that comes from putting more money in the pockets of large numbers of those workers most likely to spend it. For example, boosting the wage floor to $10 an hour would affect approximately 1 million workers in North Carolina. And because of the boom in low-wage work, the vast majority of those North Carolinians benefitting from the wage increase are no longer the part-time, teen-aged workers who once filled the bulk of entry-level jobs in past generations. Now, more than 85 percent of those benefitting from a minimum wage increase are workers older than 20 years of age, and more than half work full-time. A half-million children in the state would experience increased security thanks to their parents’ higher wages—a critical support given that North Carolina has the eighth highest percentage of children living in poverty in the nation.

As low-income workers spend their bigger paychecks, local businesses will benefit, growing the economy without hurting overall employment. Economists have repeatedly found that those states that increased their minimum wages have seen better economic performance, lower unemployment, and higher job creation rates than those states that didn’t raise their wages, controlling for regional economic trends. The evidence clearly and repeatedly contradicts critics who claim that increasing the minimum wage forces employers to offset greater payroll costs by reducing the number of employees.

In fact, raising the minimum wage creates more customers, more sales, and bigger profits. For example, recent studies have indicated that raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour would increase paychecks for North Carolina’s workers by $2 billion a year. That’s $2 billion in increased consumer spending at local businesses, boosting business sales, business profits, and creating more than 5,000 new jobs.

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