The Minimum Wage Wave

Say the minimum wage referendum passes on March 18th across Chicago.

Then the drive to do the same takes off in Springfield.

And then the fever catches on and the state’s lawmakers embrace legislation to make life better for domestic workers and restaurant workers.

What comes next?

I’m not a prophet but good sense tells me this wave will not crest soon.

The New Economic Cliff for Workers


There’s the push from unions and community groups, which has yet to let up.

But more importantly there’s the push from the economy. Rather, its the push back.

What do I mean?

I’m talking about the way that the door has been shut on low-wage jobs workers struggling to climb higher on the income ladder.

It’s important to understand this because it reflects an understanding of how the economy has changed for millions of workers, a change that doesn’t fit into the American myth of hard work paying off for all. I rely on an explanation from the Wall Street Journal, no bastion of leftist economics. As this recent article explains:

The two-track nature of the recovery helps explain why the four-year-old upturn still doesn’t feel like one to many Americans. Higher earners are spending on cars, electronics and luxury items, boosting profits for the companies that make and sell such goods. But much of the rest of the economy remains stuck: Companies won’t hire or raise pay without more demand, and consumers can’t spend more without faster hiring and fatter paychecks.

“Indeed, households earning $50,000 or more have become steadily more confident over the past year and a half, according to a monthly consumer survey conducted by RBC Capital Markets, though confidence dipped during last month’s partial government shutdown. Among lower-income households confidence has stagnated. The gap in confidence between the two groups is near its widest ever, noted RBC chief U.S. economist Tom Porcelli.

“If you look at guys with just a high-school diploma or less than a high-school diploma, those guys are still in a recession,” Mr. Porcelli said. The confidence figures, he said, “really drive home this idea of a bifurcation in the U.S. economy.”

       No Schooling + No Skills = No Future

Later, the article provides this explanation of data:

“The unemployment rate for those with less than a high-school diploma is 10.9%, compared with 3.8% for those with a college degree, and the unemployment rate for those under 25 is over 15%, versus 6.1% for those 25 or older. The jobs that are available are often low-wage or part-time. More than eight million Americans are working part time because they can’t find full-time work, a figure that has improved little over the past year. Of the 2.3 million jobs added in the past year, 35% are in sectors that pay on average less than $20 per hour. And competition for entry-level jobs has kept a lid on wages: Hourly wages for nonmanagers in the lowest-paying quarter of industries are up 6% since the recession ended; in the highest-paying quarter of industries, wages are up more than 12%.”

What this heap of data and analysis tells me is that we are facing a world where many more workers are stuck at the bottom. And the shouting we are hearing now is coming from the bottom. Five, ten years from now, how much louder will the shouting become?

If you want to hear the shouting today from those pressing to efforts to help these low income workers move upward, please join us for a news forum on Tuesday, Feb. 11th on low-wage workers’ campaigns. We’ll meet from 6pm onward at 618 S. Michigan Ave., Stage Two, Columbia College, Chicago. The CTA will get you here easily.

This is a chance for journalists to hear from more than a dozen in a half groups and workers involved in a number of  campaigns ranging from boosting the minimum wage, to driving up wages at fast food places to $15 an hour to heaps more – all of them focused on offering a hand up to those at the bottom of the wage ladder.

But so too we want this to be a community discussion and we welcoming anyone who wants to share their voice or to take in the discussion to join us.

WBEZ South Side reporter Natalie Moore will lead a panel discussion followed by meetings with a number of groups working for these changes. The Chicago Headline Club is a fellow sponsor

1618441_631535290236597_727913091_nQuestions, thoughts, advice?

Talk to me – digame

Steve Franklin, steve@chicagoistheworld. org

at the office – 312 369 6400






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