The Jaded Prole

A Progressive Worker's Perspective on the political and cultural events of our time.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Surviving in the Pig State

Our jobs suck and our bosses often try to screw us. Management considers us disposable and will find ways to cover themselves at our expense so they can deny us benefits, workers comp unemployment comp. Workplacefairness.org is a good place for information that might help. Go there and bookmark it.

And speaking of Jobs, Barbara Ehrenreich, in noting the disparity between Congress defeating a raise in the minimum wage while voting themselve one says:

While pondering Congress’s rejection of a minimum wage increase this week, it’s helpful to recall the basic taxonomic distinction between Predators and Pigs. Predators – in this case, those who employ people at unlivable wages – suck the marrow out of their employees, transform eager young women into stress-injured cripples, and virtually orphan the children whose parents are forced to work two or more jobs to support them.

Pigs, on the other hand, sit by wriggling with delight at these cannibalistic proceedings. It’s their job to oink out choruses of praise for the Predators. “Predation is Prosperity!” they proclaim, all the while hoping that some little scraps of flesh will fall their way.

So the Piggery of the Month award goes to those members of the US Congress who voted themselves a “cost of living adjustment” raise of $3300 while refusing to raise the minimum wage from a pathetic $5.15 an hour. As economic commentator Holly Sklar notes, Congressional pay will have increased by $34,900 between 1997 and 2007—an amount that it would take three minimum wage workers one year to earn (or one minimum wage worker three years) – to $171,800 a year, plus luxurious benefits.

From a Congress that has consistently cut taxes for the wealthy, themselves included, while cutting programs that serve the poor and the middle class, the minimum wage vote is not entirely surprising. What merits special notice in this instance is the unctuous rhetoric that arose from the sties as Republicans rushed to explain that by holding down the minimum wage they were actually helping the poor. If we don’t keep wages down, they said, grease dripping from the corners of their mouths, the Predators might find their prey less tasty, and unemployment will rise!

Never mind that there is no empirical evidence for this prediction. Employment didn’t plunge the last time the minimum wage was increased, in 1997, nor has this happened in any of the states – Massachusetts for example – that have raised their own minimum wages in the last few years. I grant you that there might be trouble if the minimum wage were to rise at the same rate as CEO pay. As the Institute for Policy Studies reported in 2005, “If the minimum wage had risen as fast as CEO pay since 1990, the lowest paid workers in the US would be earning $23.03 an hour today, not $5.15 an hour.”

Nor is it true, incidentally, that the minimum wage is paid mostly to teenagers working to support their Abercrombie and Fitch habits. According to economist Heather Boushey at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, fewer than one in five minimum wage workers is under the age of 20. In my experience, many of those youthful minimum wage workers are in fact making important contributions, however tiny, to their families’ inadequate incomes.

But maybe the Congressional Republicans are right about something. Maybe the number of jobs should go down as the pay rises – beginning in Congress itself. If you consider the high cost of a typical Congressperson – not only in salary but in botched and pro-Predation policies – you have to ask: Do we really need all those states?

Some states aren’t waiting for Congress. In Arizona, Arkansas, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, and Ohio, coalitions are working to increase the state minimum wage through ballot initiatives.

Otherwise there are the fall Congressional elections to consider, when any number of Pigs may come to comprehend the concept of ham.

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