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More than three-million Americans will get a raise tomorrow thanks to common sense new laws in 20 states. Not surprisingly, North Carolinians will not be on the list. This is from a post this morning at Think Progress:

On January 1, 20 states will raise their minimum wages, while one — New York — will increase its wage on Wednesday.

That means that all told, 3.1 million American workers will ring in the New Year with a pay raise.

Eleven states and Washington, DC are increasing their minimum wages thanks to changes in the law either by legislation passed by lawmakers or referenda passed by voters. Nine others will see an automatic increase because their wages are indexed to rise with inflation. Currently, 15 states have automatic increases built into their minimum wages, unlike the federal law.

The January 1 raises range from a 12-cent boost in Florida, whose minimum wage will increase to $8.05, to a $1.25 increase in South Dakota, bringing its wage to $8.50.

The increases in the New Year will mean that in 2015, the majority of states — 29 and Washington, DC — will have minimum wages set above the federal level of $7.25 an hour. They will also mean that 60 percent of all American workers will live in a state with a higher minimum wage.

Another half million workers will get a raise later in 2015, when legislation passed in Delaware and Minnesota to raise their wages goes into effect.

Meanwhile, of course, the minimum wage here in Pope-land remains stuck at a miserly $7.25 with essentially zero prospects of rising anytime soon and the inhabitants of the right-wing think tanks calling for its abolition.

Happy New Year!

minwage-2015

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center

Economists and politicians both talk about job numbers a lot. Of course the number of jobs is a vital indicator of how well the economy is working, but simply knowing how many jobs there are does not tell the whole story. Understanding the health of the labor market also requires knowing how many of the new jobs can pay for the necessities of life, support a family, and provide the basis for a long-term career. One of the most distressing aspects of the last few years is how many of the middle-class positions lost during the recession were replaced with low-wage employment, part time work, and jobs with few opportunities for career advancement.

2014 End of Year Charts_recovery based on low wage jobs

Probably the most glaring problem with the current recovery is how few decent-paying jobs have been created. As can be seen in the chart above, the majority of jobs created since the start of the recession do not pay a living wage. There are both long and short term trends that are at play here. Many industries that supported middle class wages in North Carolina, most notably manufacturing, use more machines and fewer people, eliminating lots of jobs in the process. Many of the jobs created since the recession are in service sectors that generally pay much lower wages than the blue color jobs that have been lost. This shift toward low-wage jobs is undermining the economic stability that many families in North Carolina had built over the preceding decades.

2014 End of Year Charts_recovery has not reduced poverty

This concern is bolstered by the fact that the current recovery has not done anything yet to reduce poverty, as can be seen above. Even as total employment grew over the past few years, the amount of poverty in North Carolina has actually increased, a sure sign that there are many working people who do not earn enough to escape poverty.  This runs counter to prior recessions when economic recoveries not only resulted in growth but also reduced hardship at the same time.

As noted above, we have both short-term and long-term issues to address. We still need more total jobs because wages remain depressed, in part, because there are still so many people looking for work that there is little upward pressure on wages in many industries. We can do more to ensure that North Carolina’s economic development programs are tied to wage standards so that the jobs we do attract will actually support a family. We still need to help mid-career people whose jobs disappeared during the recession, and are not likely coming back, also need help in transitioning into new occupations and careers. And certainly, long-term we need to prepare North Carolina’s children to negotiate an increasingly dynamic and competitive job market.

Anyone who is willing to work hard should not have to live in poverty, but that basic American promise isn’t going to keep itself. Public policy helped to build the middle class, and a lack of public policy vision can destroy it. If we don’t honestly look at what policy changes are needed to ensure that hard work pays, the economic damage of the recession will become a permanent reality for many North Carolinians.

Commentary

ThanksgivingIf you’re preparing for the inevitable political discussions that will accompany your family get-togethers this week, here are three new Thanksgiving-themed posts that might help you out:

#1 is today’s Fitzsimon File, which highlights the hypocritical change of heart that so many conservative politicians display toward people in need around the holidays. As Chris notes, the disconnect between what the politicians say about the same needy people during the holidays and the other 11 months of the years is frequently breathtaking.

#2 is a new Q&A from the N.C. Budget and Tax Center entitled “How to talk about the economy and taxes with your family.” Here’s an example:

WHEN THEY SAY: “This state is spending more than ever on public education.”

YOU SAY: We’re funding public schools in NC nearly 6 percent less than in 2008 when you adjust for how much things cost.  This would be like the Panthers claiming a touchdown at the 6 yard line.

As the economy improves—and it is improving—we need to invest in our public schools to ensure that we educate our kids and build a sound foundation for future economic growth. Without investing more, we can’t ensure that our classrooms, teachers and students have the cutting-edge tools to improve learning.

Finally, #3 is this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing (“Food for thought on the immigration question”) in which several key facts are spelled out (and myths exposed) about President Obama’s executive order on immigration last week. For example: Read More

Commentary

The good folks at Inequality.org continue to do a great job of documenting America’s obscene and metastasizing wealth and income gaps. This week, in their online newsletter Too Much, they highlight as fascinating comparison between French and U.S. households when it comes to wealth. As you can see, Americans top the French when it comes to average wealth because the rich here are so much richer and all of their holdings gets factored in. When one looks at median wealth however (i.e. the wealth of the most typical adult) the French leave us in la poussière.  This graphic from the Too Much website tells the grim story.

US France wealth stats

Falling Behind in NC, NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Income Data 2013, Poverty and Policy Matters

New data released by the US Census highlight the pervasiveness of poverty nationally and in North Carolina. In 2013, one in six North Carolinians lived below the federal poverty rate – less than $24,000 a year for a family of four and  $12,000 a year for an individual. For communities of color, the poverty rate is far worse: 32.5 percent for Latinos, 28.9 percent for American Indians, and 28 percent for African Americans.

These daunting poverty rates highlight that far too many individuals and families across the state face economic hardship. The persistence of poverty has been accompanied by a rise in income inequality, which poses consequential implications for the overall economy and North Carolina’s state economy. The bulk of economic gains from the ongoing economic recovery have flowed to a small group of high-income earners. In the first three years of the economic recovery, the top 1 percent of income earners captured 95 percent of the income gains nationally. Here in North Carolina, income for the top 1 percent of income earners in the state grew by 6.2 percent from 2009 to 2011 while the bottom 99 percent saw their income decline by 2.9 percent. The latest US Census data show that this early post recovery trend is likely to hold. By 2013, the top 20 percent of households in North Carolina captured more than half of all income earned by all households in the state (see graphic below). Read More