Although the rich, the political elite and most of the media are not concerned with the plight of America’s working poor, there are now real signs that those at the bottom rung of the economic ladder are taking matters in to their own hands and fighting back. Having spent the past 30 years watching the rich accumulate astonishing levels of wealth and their wages stagnate to the point where they cannot feed and house themselves, low skilled workers in America are finally saying enough is enough.
Reports the Guardian:
“Since last year, when Walmart faced the first co-ordinated strikes in its history over pay and conditions, similar protests have been spreading through America’s low-wage workforce. Earlier this month thousands of fast food workers in cities including New York, Chicago and Detroit took to the streets, many wearing red “Fight for 15″ T-shirts – a reference to the popular call for a $15 (£9.70) hourly wage, almost double the current minimum. With more protests planned for the autumn, America’s most marginalised, vulnerable and exploited workforce is on the march.”
The fact is, it is impossible to live on the minimum wage ($7.25) in America – a reality the business community does not want to face up to. The report continues:
“The McDonald’s wage – like any minimum wage – is basically a starvation wage,” says John Mason, a professor of politics at William Paterson University in New Jersey. “It effectively places you at 30% below the official poverty budget.”
The argument for low wages goes as follows: raising the minimum wage will destroy business as it will increase overhead. You work minimum wage only temporarily until you climb your way up the ladder and make a respectable wage.
The problem is, in America, that doesn’t happen any more. Out of all OECD nations, America ranks as the third least socially mobile. That means in America, if you’re born poor, you stay poor, and if you’re born rich, you stay rich. The American Dream is in fact more of an American nightmare for the vast majority of the population, and the data is there to prove it:
[The Going for Growth report found Britain, Italy and the US showed the strongest link between an individual’s and their parents’ earnings. The higher the bar, the lower earnings mobility across generations. Source: OECD]
Why does it work this way? Sadly, it’s pretty simple, but it also needs articulating given the massive amount of propaganda pumped out by the corporate press and the business community.The rich have basically rigged the state to ensure they keep their money and get richer, while making life for everyone else increasingly difficult. The tax code favors wealth – you get taxed less on capital gains (money made from investing) than you do your labor, meaning those who cannot save are taxed at a proportionally higher rate. The excuse for this sham, as is always the case in America, is that rich people need to keep more of their money so that they can create more jobs to keep the economy going. That can happen, but it’s highly dependent on the state of the economy. When the economy contracts, business and the rich tend to stop spending and hold on to their wealth. Republicans argue that they need more tax cuts to feel secure about spending money, and less regulation so they can take bigger risks. It sounds good in principle, but it has never worked during a recession – a fact anyone with a functioning brain now knows for certain.The truth is that Republicans use economic crises to further deepen the wealth divide and entrench the system that favors people like themselves.This ludicrous ideology has been accepted as fact by much of the media, and sadly, many working Americans. The belief that ‘anyone can make it’ has essentially kept the majority of the population beholden to corporate interests. In reality, life for most people consists of constant job insecurity, slashed working rights and a perpetual state of fear that their ability to feed and house themselves will evaporate in the blink of an eye. All the while, the rich benefit from huge tax subsidies, massive bailouts from the public when their businesses fail (see Wall St in 2008), and continuous handouts from the government (see the military industrial complex and the health insurance industry).It has been hard to see a way out of the status quo given the relentless campaign to convince the public that the system cannot change and is simply the only workable way to run an economy. But with more protests planned around the country, it now looks like the system has gotten so dire that working Americans cannot, and will not take it any more.
(correction: the original article stated that the minimum wage was $8.25/hour. It is $7.25/hour)
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.