Despite some anomalous developments out here in the Northwest, things look as dreadful as ever for working people this year, as wages reach their lowest share of GDP since the last handlebar mustache era.
That it has proven impossible to raise the federal minimum wage, incrementally, from utterly disgraceful to merely pathetic illustrates the bipartisan amnesia about what the minimum wage is.
You see, when it was devised, it was calculated based on what it cost people to, well, live decently. Imagine.
The New Dealers, fond of numbers as they were, made up a hypothetical family budget, including such luxuries as two bedrooms, a used car, utilities, clothing, and food for a small family. Then they determined what hourly rate would cover that. It set a floor of dignity far above what we’ve been taught to accept today, and more importantly, it forced all employers to compete for profits in ways that don’t create serfs.
Unfortunately, the Depression prices upon which the initial wage was set made it less generous as the economy improved, but since other workers were doing much better, it quickly lost the broad support needed to keep it livable over time.
Of course, once the floor was relentlessly lowered by inflation, corporate America just couldn’t resist trying to kick a lot more people down the stairs. Battles once fought by miners and factory workers are now being fought by teachers, scientists, and managers, with similarly dismal results.
The only upside is that once the economy has become so lopsided that nearly everyone is impacted by the prevalence of poverty wages, the increasingly insecure middle class is solidly on board.
Seattle’s passage (albeit with some disappointing compromises) of $15 is a huge thing, and when the drizzly sky doesn’t fall, it will be hard to stop in other big cities, and that’s why Republicans are trying to ban local increases where they can.
It’s a risky and unpopular strategy, but that never stopped them before. For once, and belatedly as usual, Democrats discovered that a good policy could make good politics, as is always their wont when they’re out of power.
Yes, May Day is once again a bummer, but here on the upper left coast it’s sunny and gorgeous, as a bunch of Right to Work states are busy cleaning up from tornadoes and floods. Coincidence?
Photo by Chris under Creative Commons license