New report documents the plight of NC hourly workers (and how to make things better)

If you missed it last week, be sure to check out the latest report from the progressive nonprofit group, Carolina Forward. In Our Daily Bread: The Hourly Workers Package, authors Blair Reeves and Alex Jones provide a sobering assessment of the economy that millions of hourly workers in our state inhabit (an economy that was, of course, grievously injured by the COVID-19 pandemic) and a detailed prescription of policy choices that could make things markedly better. This is from the executive summary:

Image: https://www.carolinaforward.org/blog/our-daily-bread

As North Carolina looks beyond the COVID pandemic, it faces a number of big, fundamental choices for its economic future. The uneven and unequally shared post-2008 recovery is a cautionary tale. Then, far too much of the post-crash growth wound up making the comfortable and affluent even more so, without really changing the economic fortunes of the bottom half – or, worse, pulling up the ladder of opportunity even higher out of reach.

Today, nearly half of North Carolina’s workers are hourly workers, most of them earning very low wages. The COVID pandemic wiped out hundreds of thousands of hourly jobs, leaving behind not just a path of illness and death, but economic dislocation too.

Emerging from the global pandemic, we now face a period of potentially significant economic expansion.

To do this, we propose six specific policy areas where state leaders can have a tremendous positive impact on the economic future for the state’s hourly workers. North Carolina’s economy has been dominated by low-wage, hourly, and politically powerless labor for generations. Entrenched big business interests have been highly successful in steering the political agenda during that time, in close cooperation with leadership from both parties. The old, traditional approaches, lurching between austerity, trickle-down economics and wishful thinking, have always left our state’s hourly workers last. It’s time to reverse that order. We must harness the transformative power of strong markets and free enterprise to even the economic playing field.

Work is ennobling. In the best of cases, it can give purpose to our days and our lives. But it is, first and foremost, a matter of sustenance; a way that each person and family keeps themselves housed, fed and clothed, and hopefully, in at least some small way, can look forward to something better tomorrow. This is what a job should deliver: not a gamble, but some small measure of stability. A guarantee not of wealth, but of at least getting by, with the hope of another day to come. Our daily bread.

The six policy priorities identified in the report are:

  1. Raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
  2. End the practice of “wage theft” whereby employers use all manner of tactics (like requiring workers to go “off the clock”) to lower their wages.
  3. Allow workers to reasonable breaks, time off and fair work schedules.
  4. Fix the state’s stingiest-in-the-nation unemployment insurance system.
  5. Allow workers to pursue better opportunities by banning anti-worker tools like ‘non-compete’ clauses.
  6. Allow workers to organize by repealing the state’s “right to work” law.

Obviously, this ambitious agenda is not something that’s going to be embraced right away by the state’s current GOP-dominated legislature and the authors understand that fact. But several items on the list have been gaining traction across the nation in recent years and it’s extremely helpful and encouraging to have them all succinctly compiled in one handy and persuasive package for North Carolinians and future state leaders.

Click here to check out and share this fine report.

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