This week in Iowa, Bernie Sanders said in a stump speech, “We’ve got to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, $15 an hour.” Presumably this pleased the crowd, however, Bernie has it wrong. (I am not picking on Bernie - Obama does no better.) In order to reset the minimum wage to anything near a living wage, it must be raised to about $21 an hour TODAY which would bring it in line with the purchasing power the minimum wage represented 4-5 decades ago. “Based on consumption growth since 1968, the minimum wage today would have to be $25.05 to represent the same share of the country's total consumption. Based on national income growth, the minimum wage should be $22.08. Based on personal income growth, it should be $21.16,” wrote Salvatore Bobones for Thruthout....over three years ago.
So where does that leave those who might get $15 an hour under the legislation that recently passed in Seattle? Not much farther, if you consider that the minimum wage there is being phased in so the $15 will be achieved in THREE to SEVEN years! You can add another decade of low wages to the 2012 estimates by Bobones and see that minimum wage workers will still be locked into the equivalent of indentured servitude. The only thing missing is the company store, unless you count its modern day equivalent, Walmart. $15 is already short of the $21 that would be meaningful. By the time 2022 rolls around, one will likely need about $25/hr to keep a family afloat in any meaningful sense, let alone make any advancement whatsoever. Lest we forget, most of our minimum wage workers are not full time. Unless the minimum wage worker can find and hold down two or three part-time jobs, he/she will essentially recapitulate Sisyphus.
The problem does not end with the wages but continues with the scheduling of many of these minimum wage jobs. Even if you want to combine a few part-time gigs there are scheduling issues. A GAP employee described this enervating problem in the Guardian thus, “Our schedule comes out less than a week in advance. Some of the shifts leave workers “on-call,” meaning we don’t know if we’re going to be working at all that day. The earliest we find out is two hours before the shift is scheduled to start. At my first store, I had 18 hours of penciled-in shifts with only nine guaranteed hours some weeks. This is not uncommon in the industry.” By “industry” I infer the slave-labor industry, not only in stores like the GAP but also all those national retail stores, coffee house chains, fast food joints and the like. These modern day slaves are not even treated as assets on some net worth statement as has been done throughout history, slaves = wealth. Employees are now treated as junk, throwaways and cheap, replaceable cogs.
The cruel irony is that this move to $15 - sometime in a few years or more or whatever - locks these relatively low wages into the corporate planning structure and guarantees that the shortfall in wages, that is made up by food stamps and other public assistance, will continue to be born by the public at large. This is our public subsidy for the salaries of CEOs and the dividends to stockholders.
It is time to call for a realistic raise in the minimum wage AND an end to abusive employment scheduling practices.