Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., August 21, 22 or 23
Progress was made on voting rights, but now the Right wants to restrict access to the ballot box by minorities, students and older Americans. Plus, looking back five decades, economic opportunity for working people of all races seems as limited as police-community understanding in Ferguson, Mo.
It’s been five years since the U.S. minimum wage was last raised, but recent attempts to raise it were blocked by the GOP. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ July jobs report noted that the official unemployment rate stayed about the same: 6.2 percent, so the number of jobless Americans remained about 6.2 million people, BLS said.
Once more, however, that widely reported jobless rate doesn’t include millions of folks who gave up seeking work out of despair. An adjusted figure, BLS’ U-6 data, takes them into account and includes unemployed people plus “all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part-time for economic reasons, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force.” That number: 12.2 percent. Since the civilian labor force is 156,023,000 people, that means that 19,034,806 people are jobless, work part-time for economic reasons, or want and are available for work and had sought a job sometime in the last year but weren’t counted as unemployed because they hadn’t actively sought work in the last month. That’s almost twice as many as the “official” jobless (9,673,426 people).
Elsewhere, the last Consumer Price Index report shows a 2-percent monthly hike in what Americans pay for goods and services (sparked by a 21.6-percent jump in fuels and utilities), and BLS’ July 24 report “Usual Weekly Earnings of Wage and Salary Workers” showed pay rising just 0.7 percent in the last year.
“The current struggle of low-wage workers across America echoes the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s,” said economist and ex-Labor Secretary Robert Reich (whose new film “Inequality for All,” is online). “As then, a group of Americans is denied the dignity of decent wages and working conditions. As then, powerful forces are threatening and intimidating vulnerable people for exercising their legal rights. Like 50 years ago, people who’ve been treated as voiceless and disposable are standing up and demanding change.”
For models, look to Stanley Nelson’s 113-minute documentary “Freedom Summer,” which mixes archival footage and current interviews to report on the volunteers who helped Mississippians fight segregation keeping them from voting, education or holding office, and to reflect on the violent resistance then and there.
Consider changes since 1964, from the Moon landing, AIDS and the Beatles and their legacy to the Internet, the birth control pill, and climate change’s extreme weather. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1964 (when it was $1.25/hour), it would now be $9.61, according to the BLS Inflation Calculator
And consider changes just since the minimum wage was raised (again, in 2009):
Inflation has eroded the minimum wage’s value. For example, in January 2009, the average price of gasoline was $1.84/gallon, now it's $3.59.
Workers’ better productivity didn’t help their pay. Between 1973 and 2013, worker productivity increased almost 65 percent; wages for those same workers went up just 8.2 percent.
The 1% has prospered. The average S&P 500 CEO received $11.7 million last year – some 774 times a full-time worker earning the federal minimum wage. As recently as 1983, the ratio of CEO pay to production and non-supervisory workers’ pay was 46 to 1; now it’s more than 330 to 1.
Working families turned to state and local governments for reform. This June, Delaware became the 22nd state (as well as the District of Columbia) to raise its minimum wage above the 2009 level. Why is that?
Republicans took control of the House in 2010 “and promptly did ... nothing,” wrote Kenneth Quinnell for AFL-CIO Now.
“Republicans proceeded to engage in obstructionism; this 113th Congress is on pace to go down as one of the least productive Congresses in history.”
As this summer winds down, everyday Americans might learn Freedom Summer’s lessons, and follow young volunteers’ actions then to foster a new resolve against an old foe: a system that enriches itself and its hand-picked mouthpieces in Washington by dividing the nation along racial, class, gender, religious, age and other differences.
[PICTURED: Graphic from progressiverags.com]