July 8, 2020
Fair wages, universal healthcare, paid parental leave, paid sick leave, paid annual leave. These should be the minimal components of employment. It is not rocket science. These things are attainable and would help both the employer and the employee.
A much quoted study, several years ago, showed that 40% of people in the US could not readily cover a $400 emergency expense. Americans are strapped for cash. Is the economy bad? Prior to the Covid-19 virus, the economy was thriving in the sense that corporations were turning high profits and paying little corporate tax while providing a very low minimum wage to their workers. Most workers’ wages were falling and/or stagnant when controlling for inflation. Increasingly, American workers were not participating in the elevated profits and productivity of the American economy.
In terms of wages, it has been shown that many low wage workers were depending on government subsidies for healthcare and/or food while their employers lined their pockets. The current stimulus, adopted to support the laid off workers, contains weekly payments of $600 provided by the federal government through July. This can be added to the state payments the worker is receiving, which vary by state but are less than the full wages. A recent NY Times article showed that for some workers this resulted in an average hourly wage of $21, more money than the $12 many workers averaged. Fully 68% of those receiving unemployment benefits were making more than they did when they were working.
The article’s authors point out that states mandate that a recipient of unemployment benefits must take a job offered that is comparable to their former job even if they will get less income than they are getting while unemployed. The authors suggest the recipients should be able to turn down such jobs in favor of finding one equal to their unemployment payments. They suggest this could result in workers negotiating for higher wages rather than the recent data which shows that wages for returning workers are decreasing. They further suggest that the federal government make up the gap between a job’s wages and a $21 an hour wage representing a fair wage guarantee. This would be one tactic to take. Other suggestions would see the employer paying a fairer wage, at its own expense, and research shows this could be done without a dramatic decline in profit. Only a very few small businesses would have to cut employees, or reduce hours, if the minimum wage was increased. An additional source of revenue for workers could come from a subsidy achieved by raising corporate taxes which currently are at all-time low. Finally, unionization significantly aids the well-being of employees and it stands at an all-time low. The current rate is 6.2% in the private sphere and 33.6% in the public sector. The corona virus has driven the country to the edge of indecency with its meager wages and poor or nonexistent benefits. To create greater economic equity, as well as quality of life, politicians must address the deterioration of the measures which provide for the public good. A thriving working and middle class is widely held to be beneficial for consumers and corporations and yet the nation is moving further from this reality. Home ownership is good for business and is also on the decline, particularly among discriminated groups. Creating a working middle class which is economically viable is imperative to secure a thriving economy benefitting the increasing part of the population which lives on the edge. Many economists, social scientists, and progressive writers support this view. In addition, such job “benefits” as universal healthcare, paid parental and sick leave, annual leave, daycare subsidies, and tax relief must be made workers’ rights. It seems only “fair.”