Gotta love this headline in The New Yorker: “The Pay Is Too Damn Low.” Duh, yeah.

I don't feel the need to elaborate on this New Yorker article.

America, isn't it time you vote you pocketbooks, instead of letting the lobbyists decide your fates?

–Josie

THE FINANCIAL PAGE / The New Yorker

THE PAY IS TOO DAMN LOW

BY AUGUST 12, 2013

A few weeks ago, Washington, D.C., passed a living-wage bill designed to make Walmart pay its workers a minimum of $12.50 an hour. Then President Obama called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage (which is currently $7.25 an hour). McDonald’s was widely derided for releasing a budget to help its employees plan financially, since that only underscored how brutally hard it is to live on a McDonald’s wage. And last week fast-food workers across the country staged walkouts, calling for an increase in their pay to fifteen dollars an hour. Low-wage earners have long been the hardest workers to organize and the easiest to ignore. Now they’re front-page news.

The workers’ grievances are simple: low wages, few (if any) benefits, and little full-time work. In inflation-adjusted terms, the minimum wage, though higher than it was a decade ago, is still well below its 1968 peak (when it was worth about $10.70 an hour in today’s dollars), and it’s still poverty-level pay. To make matters worse, most fast-food and retail work is part time, and the weak job market has eroded what little bargaining power low-wage workers had: their earnings actually fell between 2009 and last year, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Still, the reason this has become a big political issue is not that the jobs have changed; it’s that the people doing the jobs have. Historically, low-wage work tended to be done either by the young or by women looking for part-time jobs to supplement family income. As the historian Bethany Moreton has shown, Walmart in its early days sought explicitly to hire underemployed married women. Fast-food workforces, meanwhile, were dominated by teen-agers. Now, though, plenty of family breadwinners are stuck in these jobs. That’s because, over the past three decades, the U.S. economy has done a poor job of creating good middle-class jobs; five of the six fastest-growing job categories today pay less than the median wage. That’s why, as a recent study by the economists John Schmitt and Janelle Jones has shown, low-wage workers are older and better educated than ever. More important, more of them are relying on their paychecks not for pin money or to pay for Friday-night dates but, rather, to support families. Forty years ago, there was no expectation that fast-food or discount-retail jobs would provide a living wage, because these were not jobs that, in the main, adult heads of household did. Today, low-wage workers provide forty-six per cent of their family’s income. It is that change which is driving the demand for higher pay.

The situation is the result of a tectonic shift in the American economy. In 1960, the country’s biggest employer, General Motors, was also its most profitable company and one of its best-paying. It had high profit margins and real pricing power, even as it was paying its workers union wages. And it was not alone: firms like Ford, Standard Oil, and Bethlehem Steel employed huge numbers of well-paid workers while earning big profits. Today, the country’s biggest employers are retailers and fast-food chains, almost all of which have built their businesses on low pay—they’ve striven to keep wages down and unions out—and low prices.

This complicates things, in part because of the nature of these businesses. They make plenty of money, but most have slim profit margins: Walmart and Target earn between three and four cents on the dollar; a typical McDonald’s franchise restaurant earns around six cents on the dollar before taxes, according to an analysis from Janney Capital Markets. In fact, the combined profits of all the major retailers, restaurant chains, and supermarkets in the Fortune 500 are smaller than the profits of Apple alone. Yet Apple employs just seventy-six thousand people, while the retailers, supermarkets, and restaurant chains employ 5.6 million. The grim truth of those numbers is that low wages are a big part of why these companies are able to stay profitable while offering low prices. Congress is currently considering a bill increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years. That’s an increase that the companies can easily tolerate, and it would make a significant difference in the lives of low-wage workers. But that’s still a long way from turning these jobs into the kind of employment that can support a middle-class family. If you want to accomplish that, you have to change the entire way these companies do business. Above all, you have to get consumers to accept significantly higher, and steadily rising, prices. After decades in which we’ve grown used to cheap stuff, that won’t be easy.

Realistically, then, a higher minimum wage can be only part of the solution. We also need to expand the earned-income tax credit, and strengthen the social-insurance system, including child care and health care (the advent of Obamacare will help in this regard). Fast-food jobs in Germany and the Netherlands aren’t much better-paid than in the U.S., but a stronger safety net makes workers much better off. We also need many more of the “middle-class jobs” we’re always hearing about. A recent McKinsey report suggested that the government should invest almost a trillion dollars over the next five years in repairing and upgrading the national infrastructure, which seems like a good place to start. And we really need the economy as a whole to grow faster, because that would both increase the supply of good jobs and improve the bargaining power of low-wage workers. As Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, told me, “The best friend that low-wage workers have is a strong economy and a tight job market.” It isn’t enough to make bad jobs better. We need to create better jobs. ♦

ILLUSTRATION: CHRISTOPH NIEMANN

(c) The New Yorker. All rights reserved.

 

TheHousewifeAssassinsHandbook_JosieBrown (134x200)My way to help the wage slave is to offer THE HOUSEWIEE ASSASSIN'S HANDBOOK for free. Download it here:

(Book 1) Signal Press  

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Read an excerpt…

The best gift you can give on Mother’s Day: a donation to your local library. Here’s why…

MomDadReading-withChild Today, millions of children — and adults — will be honoroing their mothers in a variety of ways. Some moms will get a soggy French toast breakfast in bed and chow down on it with glee, because it's the thought that counts, not the lack of any golden brown crispness on two slices of yolk-drenched Wonder Bread. Other mothers will be treated to an overpriced brunch at a local restaurant, where they'll wave at the other moms who grace the tables around them who are also surrounded by their adoring broods.

And all mothers will be oohing and aahing over the gifts they'll receive, even if it's yet another bottle of perfume, or trio of scented soaps, or bouquet of roses.

I am a mother of two. Like other moms, I've given no clue as to what I might want on This Day To Pay Me Tribute. Call me humbled. Call me selfless–

Call me a sap! That's only fair, because I'm calling you one, too.

Why? Because all week we've had the perfect opportunity to hint around (make that, command with dire motherly overtones) as to what we really want from our kids. And as is the case with almost everything we ask of them, it's more for their benefit than for our own, even if they don't realize it at first:

We should ask them to donate to their local library.

From the moment we first held our infant children in our arms, we've only wanted the best for them. We wanted them to succeed and prosper; to be happy and healthy.

We encouraged them to be anything in life they wanted, be that teachers or bankers; firemen or gymnasts; ballplayers or doctors. Even president.

Our own lives have shown us that knowledge is power. Generations of mothers before us instilled this into us– 

Even those who never had local, free public libraries.

Great societies, like ancient Egypt and Assyria (now Iraq) were built on grand libraries. Even today, with the social turmoil upending the dictatorial regimes that now rule in that part of the world, the citizens who are fighting for their freedom are also standing guard over their libraries.

So, why aren't we doing the same?

Ours are being threatened by the worst economy since the Great Depression. Just a couple of years ago it took an act of Pennsylvania's state legislature to keep the great city of Philadelphia's library system from closing its doors. Scan Google and your find article upon article about closings in communities all over the country; no, make that all over the world.

The digital leap in eBooks may be forcing a move away from paper books, but it won't quell the desire to access knowledge, in any form it may take. I have no doubt that the savvy librarians I've met throughout the country can tell you that there are many readers who don't have a couple of hundred dollars to spend on an eReader or iTablet. 

History shows us that a great divide in the haves and have-nots only leads to anarchy. 

Once again, it's time that the "haves" come to the rescue.

In 1889, millionaire steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie built the first of 1,689 free public libraries in the United States. He left it to the local communities — usually women's groups — to fund the books that would go inside these grand buildings.

For five generations of Americans, in cities large and small, these libraries were the pride of their communities. 

Where is our pride now?

Please don't point to "budget cutbacks" and "austerity plans." 

Libraries are the essence of freedom. They are home to free speech and to knowledge.

They are where a free society learns to read.

Just recently I read a post from a book blogger, Courtney Webb, bemoaning the reduced hours at her local library. What jumped out at me from her plea was the name of her library system: Cobb County Public Library System.

While I now live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I spent my teen years in Cobb County. A couple of its branches — Kennesaw, and Gritters — were second homes to me. They fed my love of books, and my desire to write. 

When my own mother was alive, one of her fondest memories of my childhood was how, as a first grader, I'd follow behind her while she mowed the lawn, reading to her. Of course over the din of the mower she couldn't hear whether I was getting every word right, but I was certainly making an effort.

Now, I'm asking you to make one, too: Give something. GIVE ANYTHING. But keep your libraries a part of your lives. 

They build minds, and inspire ideas.

As history has shown us, libraries are what make civilizations great.

 

— Josie

Josie's latest novel is The Baby Planner [Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books]
ISBN 978-1-4391-9712-7 

 

"Brown (Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives) takes baby mania to its illogical, hysterical extreme in this bubbly romp. Thirty-seven-year-old Katie's biological clock is ticking like a time bomb, and she turns her baby obsession into a wildly successful consultant gig planning nurseries for pregnant women too rich, clueless, bedridden, or busy to do the task themselves. Even grieving widower Seth, who works with Katie's child-shy husband, Alex, on a demanding new business venture, needs Katie's services to help him manage his perplexing new role as a single dad. But what begins as yet another vanilla chick lit foray into Bugaboo country turns into something bigger than a satire of status-obsessed Bay Area yummy mummies as Brown takes a dark look at the fears of parenthood and family, with Katie's heartbreaking longing for a child unveiling a disturbing reality about her marriage and family. Still, the message from the somber realities is one full of hope: love makes a family, commitment keeps it together." –Publishers Weekly