[Editor’s note: Stan C. Kimer is a retired IBM executive and former President of the North Carolina Council of Churches. He now runs a firm which offers consulting services around diversity management and training, and talent/career development. This is the latest installment in a series of posts he is authoring for The Progressive Pulse on engaging the faith and business communities on the issue of workers’ rights. You can read his most recent previous installments by clicking here and here.]
In this month’s post, I return to the subject of engaging the business community in promoting worker’s rights.
Most corporate mission statements include a statement about enhancing the overall well-being of the communities they work in and sell to. Moreover, such statements often include items like assisting with economic development in traditionally depressed areas. Too often, however, these statements fail to match words with deeds.
There is a strong connection between this “economic and community involvement” and the issue of racism in the United States. In the Winter 2015 edition of The Crisis — the magazine of the national NAACP — the finance column article was entitled “Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Isn’t Just the Right Thing to Do. It’s Good Economics.” The article quoted the alarming statistic that the median net worth of White families is 9.5 times that of Hispanic families and 12 times that of Black families, with just a miniscule improvement in the past 50 years.
Here are some additional alarming statistics:
- The 2010 US Census declared that 15.1% (over 46 million people!) of Americans were living in poverty.
- That Blacks and Hispanics were disproportionately represented in the poverty numbers (Over 28% of Blacks and 26% of Hispanics.)
- The poverty rate for women single head of households was 5 times the poverty rate of families with two parents.
Why is this important in the workers’ rights discussion? Because it is most often these poorest families that are Black or Hispanic with the wage earners bringing in the lowest pay with the least amount of benefits. When an illness hits and a parent needs to take time off of work, or when a woman needs to take time off to have a baby, these families of color do not have the accumulated net worth and resources to fall back on to bridge the financial crisis. This will often result in losing homes, ending up on the street, getting more ill, etc. In the long run, this will cost the American country more in health care costs, crisis intervention and public assistance.
In other words: If companies do want to hold true to their pledges to better the communities they are in, more basic benefits must be made available to the lowest paid employees in the enterprise.