Posts Tagged minimum wage

Wage Increases Alone Are Not Enough

In a move that could alter the minimum wage debate and improve the image of the world’s largest retailer, Walmart announced it will raise the baseline wage of its current store employees to $10 per hour, bringing pay hikes to an estimated 500,000 workers.

The company said in an announcement on Thursday that it would raise its wage floor to $9 in April, followed by a second boost to $10 by next February.

Now I do not want to berate them for giving their employees a wage increase. That is a good thing and better than nothing, I guess.

But I do want to make a few observations:

1) A dollar or two more per hour spread out over two years is nothing but a drop in the bucket and is not likely going to change the situation of people in Wal-mart’s employ all that much, if at all.

2) Compared to the obscene wealth Walmart and the Walton family have (the six Waltons have a net worth of $144.7 billion. This fiscal year three Waltons—Rob, Jim, and Alice (and the various entities that they control)—will receive an estimated $3.1 billion in Walmart dividends from their majority stake in the company), giving their employees a mere dollar or two an hour more in wages is not only a drop in the bucket but, quite frankly, insulting. It reeks of the kind of greed communists have not only predicted but almost caricatured since the beginning of the industrial revolution and the emergence of capitalism. The greed here is unfathomable.

3) What Walmart is doing here is voluntary. They are not obliged, per federal minimum wage laws, to give their employees more than $7.25 an hour. People are all beside themselves over the “generosity” of Walmart  and celebrate this as some kind of a victory for workers.

There is a whole lot wrong with this, not the least of which is that 10 dollars an hour is not a livable wage. It amounts to not more than $18,720 a year before taxes. After the tax collector is done with you, that amount is most likely reduced by another 40%. No one can live on this.

But the bigger issue here is that  people waiting to be paid a livable wage for a days’ work shouldn’t be dependent on the largesse and generosity of their employers voluntarily giving them wage increases. In other words, it should not be up to an employer’s discretion to not only treat their employees well but to also give them wage increases. Because a lot of them will be waiting forever.

That is why we need regulation in the form of laws that guarantee a realistic livable wage, limiting executive income to a reasonable multiplier of that wage, so that if executives want to make more, they need to give their employees more, too.

4) All this brings me to my next point, which I cannot emphasize enough: $10 an hour is not a livable wage.

Heck not even $15 an hour is.

Making $28,880 per year (which is what someone getting paid $15 an hour would be making) is not a livable wage. After taxes, not much remains. People in such a situation, which is already considered the gold standard (the $15 an hour minimum wage)  won’t be given healthcare benefits or will not be able to afford quality health care with low deductibles and co-pays.

Many of them will not qualify for government subsidies as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as the poverty levels are set so low that most people do not qualify and  many of these people won’t earn enough money to feed themselves, much less a family, and many of them won’t be able to save as much as they’ll need for their retirement, if they can save anything at all.

People who honorably dedicate their time, energy, and talents to jobs that might not traditionally pay well because some capitalist pig decided it is worth less, are indeed entitled to something though. They are entitled to not work their whole lives only to find themselves poverty-stricken, or hungry, or homeless after one small (or not small) financial crisis. And if we’re not going to ensure that every job comes with a livable wage, access to affordable healthcare, and retirement benefits, then we’ve got to provide a robust and well-funded social safety net.

None of which we have these days. The money you get deducted each pay-check for social security may as well be torched and dumped into a landfill, because you most likely will not see much of it. It is just money the government collects from everyone each month that lands into a pool of money that Congress regularly steals from (i.e. borrows against) and then when it is time to pay-back, they talk about cutting social security altogether.

So we do not even have a social safety net.

Unemployment benefits run out after a year or two max and most people do not qualify for welfare and foodstamps because the bar for qualifying for such benefits has been set so low, that no one but people pushing shopping carts, qualify.

I know someone in their 60s making $800 dollars a month and they were denied food-stamp benefits because they allegedly make too much money. And that is in California. An ostensibly liberal state.

5) Finally, and most importantly: wage increases are meaningless if they are not accompanied by tax reform in the form of reducing the taxes on the poor and middle class while closing the loopholes and increasing the taxes on the wealthy.

Imagine if you could keep 85% of the money you make each month, instead of having relinquish nearly 40% of it to the Federal government. Imagine how much better off you would be. I know I would be able to pay off my student loan debt and increase my standard of living by manifold.

But the reality is that the majority of us do not get to keep that money. We have to give it to the government, while someone making 100 to 1000 or even 10,000 times or more than we do gets to keep all their money, accumulating wealth fast and easy while free-riding on the taxes we all pay for them. This is wealth redistribution bottom to top, make no mistake about it. The middle class has been and continues to underwrite the success of the wealthy.

That is why minimum wage increases alone are meaningless if they do not go hand in hand with tax reforms. Because even if we were to push for higher minimum wages, people end up just paying more of that in taxes, which then effectively nullifies the whole reason why wages needed to be increased in the first place. The only one benefiting from wage increases is the government.

Hard work and making more money won’t do you any good if you are crippled by high taxes. At least in Europe the higher taxes people pay go back to them in social programs and a robust social safety net. Here, the poor and middle class are taxed into oblivion and when push comes to shove, they don’t see any of it come back to them in form of healthy, meaningful and robust social programs.

Right now, thanks to our current tax system that has been designed to benefit the very wealthy, corporations and wealthy individuals have managed to exploit loopholes to such an extent that has allowed them to keep the trillions of tax dollars we ought to be collecting from them, as profit.  That is how they keep getting richer and why you and I, are not.  Trickle down my ass.

The idea behind trickle down was that by giving the wealthy and big earners and corporations tax breaks, thus lessening the burden on them,  you create the kind of environment that creates jobs and allows the wealth to trickle down to the lower ranks. The idea was that your employer will pass to tax savings it got on to you in the form of benefits and great wages.

That is one huge lie. And it never happened, given the decline of the middle class ever since trickle down was being sold to the American public.

In fact, trickle down is one of the biggest lies ever told and it does not work. It is a myth.

Corporations and the wealthy do not pass on the savings they get in taxes to their employees and workers. Instead they hide all those monies in off-shore accounts and pocket them. There is a reason Romney did not want to publish his tax returns and can afford gold plated car elevators in one of his mansions.

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Organization Pushing For $20 An Hour Minimum Wage Offers Job for $13 an Hour

Earlier this month The Freedom Socialist Party posted listings on Craigslist and Indeed to advertise an opening for a part-time web designer offering to pay $13 an hour.  That’s well below the $20 minimum wage the party pushes for in its platform, and lower than the $15 wage it helped pass this year in Seattle.

But Doug Barnes, the party’s national secretary, told The Huffington Post on Saturday that the group relies heavily on donations from low-wage workers and could not afford to pay much to an inexperienced designer.

We’re practicing what we’re preaching in terms of continuing to fight for the minimum wage,” Barnes said, making his first public comment on the controversy. “But we can’t pay a lot more than $13.” He went on to accuse Right wing critics as hypocritical, citing that “these are the same people who fought against the minimum wage and support companies like Walmart.”

I mean look,  I am a liberal socialist in the sense that I do believe in strong unions, labor rights and regulation, but I have to admit this is pretty hypocritical. “But we can’t pay a lot more than $13” is exactly what everyone else who opposes minimum wage increases, including the $ 20 an hour proposal this party supports, argues:  “we cannot afford it.” Why is it then that the socialist party’s reasons are legitimate and everyone else’s aren’t?

This is the same thing as non-profits who fight for social and economic justice and fair wages etc. turning around offering non paid full time internships. That is just not right and goes against the very things you are arguing and allegedly fighting for.

And the thing is, if you want to change things, you have to be the change you want to see, trite as it may sound. Not to mention that I am going to take a wild guess here and say that the president or CEO of this non-profit probably gets paid quite a lot. Maybe he cares to cut his salary so they can afford the 20 bucks they are pushing for because $13 an hour is not a livable wage for anyone, especially a highly educated and skilled person who probably had to rack up student loan debt and such to be able to pay for this education which, in turn, was going to qualify him for this job.

Either way you look at it, this just does not look good and doesn’t strengthen your position to not be living what you preach.

Yeah Republicans and Conservatives are a bunch of indecent hypocrites and scumbags, opposing the minimum wage and unions, but then again they never pretended otherwise. You, on the other hand,  claim to stand for more so be more.

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Just Get A Job At McDonald’s and Let the American Dream Begin

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When people are struggling financially, such as being unemployed, on welfare, on disability or in any other circumstance that has rendered them poor and without income, the stereotypical, go-to phrase of bootstraps bullshittery is always “go get a job at McDonald’s, buddy“. Usually this phrase is uttered by people who themselves never have worked at a place like McDonald’s (or Burger King or any other similar fast food joint) and who view not working at a shit-hole like that as a contemptible refusal by alleged “lazy freeloaders” to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to finally stop mooching off of hard-working, honest, supposedly bootstraps-pulling individuals.

Oh you know, if it were me I would totally lower myself and go work for McDonald’s”  says some dipshit one percenter who was escorted out of government offices with seven figure bonuses made entirely possible by a tax-payer funded bail out for an economic meltdown he and his colleagues caused across the financial world, in collaboration with the majority of the US Congress.

The rhetoric here is “you work hard, you create your own luck, and you gotta believe anything is possible“blah blah blah.

The irony of this type of callous, rancid rhetoric, of course, is that people who do work at places like McDonald’s or Burger King etc,  do not even get paid a livable-wage which they then could supposedly use to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to realize their American Dream.

Striking McDonald's worker Bartolome Perez, 42, protests outside McDonald's on Hollywood Boulevard as part of a nationwide strike by fast-food workers to call for wages of $15 an hour, in Los Angeles

Earlier this month, McDonald’s employees in California, Michigan and New York have filed class-action law suits against McDonald’s alleging that McDonald’s has engaged in systematic wage theft.

“The suits allege that McDonald’s has forced employees to work off the clock, not paid them overtime and struck hours off their time cards.

We’ve uncovered several unlawful schemes, but they all share a common purpose — to drive labor costs down by stealing wages from McDonald’s workers,” said Michael Rubin of Altshuler Berzon LLP, an attorney who represents California workers.

The employees in Michigan allege that they would start getting paid only when customers walked into the restaurants, even if they showed up to work hours earlier.
New York McDonald’s workers, who filed their case in federal court ,claim the fast food chain did not reimburse them for the cost of cleaning uniforms. They say it drives some workers’ real wages below the minimum wage, which is a violation of federal labor law.

Since 1985, the Labor Department has found that McDonald’s and its franchises have had to pay back wages more than 300 times for Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) violations.

These types of exploits are not just confined to McDonald’s, however.  Burger King, most notable among a myriad of companies out there, is another avid exploiter.

As the truly sad and somewhat harrowing accounts of fifty-year-old Glenn Johnson who gets paid $14,000 a year (that is $1,166 a month) working at a Miami-area Burger King, just minutes away from the fast food company’s corporate headquarters, show, even if your company does not actively steal from you, as a regular employee in the fast-food industry, which many, including the Burger King spokesperson believe to “provide an entry point into the workforce for millions of Americans,” you still cannot make ends meet despite working full-time and working hard.

Note how the bootstraps rhetoric is not just about working but working hard. “You work hard, you create your own luck, and you gotta believe anything is possible” it goes. Thing is, that is just not how it always goes.

Glenn Johnson is a man who, much like many other men and women out there, does work hard, to the point of exhaustion, yet is still struggling.

Come work for us for scap wages and the American Dream can happen to you, too!!

Come work for us for scrap wages and the American Dream can happen to you, too!!

He gets paid $7.93 an hour, no benefits, no health-care. When he gets sick or feels sick, he gets some Tylenol or VapoRub or some other over-the-counter medication as even going to the hospital will cost him $1,000 off the bat. This means that Mr. Johnson is also not having access to preventive care and thus is not getting routine physical check-ups, which are especially important for someone his age.

His rent is $765 a month, which takes up more than three weeks of his paycheck, and he also has to pay for utilities and food as well as gas to put in his car so he can get to work. This does not leave much for anything else, including paying for his health-care.

An individual like Mr. Johnson, with his level of income, may, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, be eligible for government subsidies of his premiums but he is not eligible for government subsidies of his deductibles and actual health-care costs (because that would have actually been a policy helping people, so, naturally, it was voted away).

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Note that someone who only makes $14,000 a year does not even qualify for the low/zero deductible Gold and Platinum plans under Obamacare, he only qualifies for the Silver and Bronze ones, both of which have, relatively speaking,  astronomically high deductibles, from $5,000 to $10,000.

How can someone whose yearly income is $14,000 ever come up with a $10k or even $5k deductible?  That $10k may as well be a million because he doesn’t have that either. Affordable, I think not, Mr. President.

In addition to the fiscal strain, Mr. Johnson also has to content with the emotional strain of working such a minimum-wage job without having the means to do anything else beside work. He just does not bring home much to do anything else with, such as go on vacation. He seems just like another indentured servant. He often comes home tired and exhausted, unable to do anything but eat dinner, take a shower, watch some TV and go to bed, just so he can start the same thing tomorrow.

He does not get any benefits, therefore, he is also not eligible to go on vacation or take a week off or even afford to get sick – not that he could afford going on vacation if he wanted to. Additionally, he has to content with abusive bosses and managers.

It is just a demoralizing existence. And he is not the only one.

All the while, Burger King has been posting a 37 percent in its quarterly gains.

The comment section of the Huffington Post, where Mr. Johnson’s story was first published, reeks of the same old garbage, out-of-touch bootstraps narratives and other associated Gordon Gecko prosperity dribble blaming Mr. Johnson for the fact that he is getting paid scrap wages without benefits or anything else and that he clearly seems unwilling to pull himself up by his bootstraps.

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Some people state that it is Johnson’s fault for being 50 years old, working in the same place for the past thirty years and still making about the same amount of money. “Why was he not promoted?” they ask or “does he have bad work ethics? A bad attitude?”

People blame him for being a “loser” who is merely choosing to work at Burger King. As if Mr. Johnson was offered a host of opportunities for a better job and income yet inexplicably chose to work a minimum-wage paying slow death.

As if the ability to make the best choices in life was not often dependent on one’s socio-economic situation in society as well as race, gender, bodily ability, abuse and a host of other factors that systemically place certain people on trajectory-fucking paths and disadvantaged positions vis a vis people who enjoy a host of privileges – such as being born white, straight, able bodied and wealthy or any combination thereof.

Privilege gives people freedom of choice, it gives them options, which, in turn, allow making good and prudent decisions possible. And isn’t that what poverty is ultimately about? That one’s choices shrink in proportion to one’s wealth whereby the less you own, the fewer choices available to you?

Poor people are often blamed for their situation, as if they were born into privilege and wealth and always functional, loving, non-abusive families with a myriad of choices available to them while inexplicably making the bad ones to their own detriment.

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As I have mentioned before, this delusion – or lie may I dare say – that sheer will power can make individuals transcend barriers, the glass ceiling, and overcame systemic inequalities, is precisely the kind of misleading bullshit that the likes of Romney (and even the President) and other one percenters regurgitate when speaking to the masses of people who are navigating a tedious existence of one paycheck/crisis away from destitution without any real prospects for improvement in sight, thanks to a host of middle-class busting policies by both of our parties and a practically non-existent social-safety net.

These are the things that, contrary to popular (and it appears even professional belief)  cannot be ameliorated with mere sheer individual will-power, as individuals cannot be tasked to solve and overcome systemic issues.

That Burger King is paying its employees scrap wages without any benefits whatsoever, and is not required to do so by law, is a systemic issue.

fast foodPeople who admonish Glenn Johnson and millions of others like him for not having made “better choices”, for having “chosen” “loser vocations” thus not working a great job with great pay, are missing the point, which is that a) not everyone is born into the right set of circumstances and that regardless of that b) not everyone in society can be rich.

Professions in hospitality and janitorial services are, traditionally, not the kind of jobs that make people rich.  Especially the fast food industry is notorious for abysmally low wages and as generally being in the lowest paid job category. People are often not expected to remain in them for long and only be taking on such a job if all else fails (unless, of course, you are in a huge recession where even skilled workers cannot find jobs in their trained professions so they have to work for such places). This high turn-over in employees has played to the advantage of the fast-food industry that is bringing in record profits, because labor leaders often have not made an effort to organize these workers into unions to increase their collective bargaining power. Given the immense advantage owners can take of this situation, it is unlikely that they will support for changes to occur.

Yet, they are professions that are both needed and do require hard work.

However, without a meaningful social safety net in place as well as meaningful labor laws and protections, people just eek by an existence, slide down the ladder until they hit bottom, or in this case Burger King and McDonald’s – the go-to employers people evoke when admonishing and vilifying  welfare recipients and the poor in general.

Mr. Johnson deserves to be working in a job, whatever that job may be, that pays a livable wage, that offers him benefits in the form of vacation and sick leave, that accommodates disabilities, that requires mandatory minimum wage increases in regular intervals. He deserves to not find himself a paycheck away from destitution, he deserves to have something to show for after a life-time of working hard in a vocation of his choice (or not of his choice, but out of necessity) instead of destitution, poverty and exhaustion while the company he works for posts record profits with a few on top reaping all the benefits.

There was a time in this country, not too long ago, where if you worked full-time, no matter what you did, you could afford to live like a human being. Now, it’s almost impossible for an unskilled worker to get a full forty hours, lest their employer have to fork over their paltry ‘benefits’ package. Even if they did, minimum wage is not enough to pay the bills or live the kind of dignified life resembling that of a human being. This is why the middle class is dwindling and why our economy can’t get back on its feet.

Poverty is destabilizing on many levels and the health of any society is generally measured by the existence and health of its middle-class. A healthy middle-class is indispensable for the smooth functioning of a democracy.

But sure, let’s blame the poor and dismiss them by suggesting they shut up complaining and just go work at McDonald’s to make their (American) Dream come true, even though the wages places like McDonald’s and Burger King pay are not fit for a dog,  while playing the violin for the “poor” billionaires who feel threatened and whine about having to endure bad press.

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