Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Opinion

June 10, 2014

Lion and the Lamb: A wage to live by

CROSSVILLE — This month started out with a remarkable history-making event. On June 2 Seattle became the first major city in the U.S. to establish a $15 per hour minimum wage. And even more remarkably, this decision was made by its city council in a unanimous vote.

There were two significant developments in Seattle that contributed to this notable outcome. Last year "15 Now," a grassroots movement made up of groups of workers and activists, met weekly, held conferences and debates, organized rallies, and engaged thousands of people around the city about the need for a living wage, especially for low wage workers employed in fast food and retail services. As a by-product of this effort they were able to elect Kshama Sawant, a Socialist candidate especially interested in economic justice issues, to the city council to carry on the struggle within that segment of the local government.

At the beginning of this year, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray brought together a group of 24 business leaders, union bosses and community advocates to work on a recommendation for a minimum wage higher than the state's $9.32 current figure. He chose two men on opposite sides of the debate to co-chair the group, giving them four months to work out a deal.

There turned out to be serious disagreements in the group, however. Labor leaders wanted a pay increase to take effect immediately; business leaders wanted it phased in over many years. Labor leaders insisted that tips and benefits not count as part of a person's wages; business leaders thought they should be able to pay lower hourly rates in such situations. A month before the deadline, the mayor whittled the group down to eight negotiators.

On June 2, city council members unanimously approved a new $15 minimum wage ordinance that will go into effect on April 1, 2015 and be phased in over the next three to seven years depending on the size of the business. In a last minute addition to the original formulation, employers will be allowed to pay a lower training wage to teenagers. It is apparent from this plan that the members of the working group had a difficult time agreeing on the various particulars of the proposal's implementation beyond their support of the $15 figure. 

There are many Seattle residents who will be anxiously waiting for the 2015 starting date. Out of the city's population of 634,535, there are presently more than 100,000 workers whose incomes are insufficient to support their families. Around 14 percent of the population lives below the poverty level. Most minimum wage workers these days aren't teenagers but family breadwinners, often single mothers who need a higher minimum wage in order to keep their families out of poverty.

Despite fears by many conservatives, recent studies have revealed that raising the minimum wage would not be "job killers" but would be of advantage to employers by increasing worker satisfaction and productivity and decreasing worker turnover. These studies have also shown that minor price increases to cover higher wages have not resulted in lower sales and profits. When workers with higher incomes become consumers, more money gets spent and circulated in local communities (something that doesn't happen when those already wealthy get additional income). The real job creators are consumers with enough money to buy.

Devising a minimum wage that is also a living wage is one of the biggest challenges before our nation today. But there is an even more life-threatening economic challenge confronting us that will destroy our nation if left unaddressed: our broken system of compensation and the massive inequality that permeates our American society.

Two brief illustrations point up this problem. As author Paul Buchheit has written, preschool teaching may be our nation's most important job. With preschool experience all children achieve more and earn more through adulthood. In our economic system, however, we do not regard or value preschool teachers as highly as we do hedge fund managers. The combined salaries of all 350,000 preschool teachers are less than the combined salaries of five hedge fund managers.

We also value income from investments more than we do income from wages and salaries. Our nation's wealth grew by almost $9 trillion in 2013. The richest 1 percent now own 34 percent of the wealth. An interesting value comparison: those in the top 1 percent made more from their investments in 2013 than the entire cost of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the entire Safety Net (WIC [Women, Infants, Children], Child Nutrition, Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Housing).

Although many people are interested in the question "Is there life before birth?", a more important question for us becomes "What kind of life is available to us after birth?"



 

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • Tidbits: Taking a low-tech break

    Feeling increasingly strangled by my electronic leash, with phone, text messages, email, social media and a variety of other forms of communication always at my side, I took the weekend off.

    July 28, 2014

  • Stumptalk: Governing before and after mass corruption

    Laws in America were originally written simply. Every citizen could read them quickly and understand their meaning. The founders wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Northwest Ordinance and the Constitution of the United States, none of which was longer than 4,500 words.

    July 28, 2014

  • We the People: The last dance

    Charlie Hayden’s last recording session with his early partner, Keith Jarrett, was in 2007.  The songs they played were mostly melancholy.  The second album coming from that session includes Weil’s “My Ship” and Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” The dark ballad “Goodbye,” by Gordon Jenkins, was the final track.

    July 22, 2014

  • Lion and the Lamb: Living in a pressure cooker

    The Gaza Strip, a small Palestinian territory about the size of Washington, D.C., has been in the news almost every day.  Its key location at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea has attracted a number of occupying powers over the years, and it has  been at the center of much Middle East history.

    July 22, 2014

  • Tidbits: The excitement of election day

    On March 12, 1996, there were 427,183 votes cast in the presidential primary election. Among those votes was mine, the first vote I cast in an election, just two days after my 18th birthday.

    July 21, 2014

  • Raising the minimum wage

    My first job from which FICA was withheld was a minimum wage job, seventy-five cents an hour. And yes, even then no one could live on that little money. However, I was a high schooler living at home where my father provided room and board. The job gave me pocket money to buy gasoline, to take my girlfriend out for movies and burgers, and to buy tickets for baseball games.

    July 21, 2014

  • Lion and the Lamb: Children on the move

    The news this past week has focused on the humanitarian crisis developing on our southern border. Thousands of unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras seeking to escape from the violence, human trafficking and extreme poverty in their countries have been entering the United States.

    July 15, 2014

  • We the People: Memo to gun rights groups

    The recent incident in California helps us understand why we cannot rely on mental health services alone to solve the problem of gun violence.

    July 15, 2014

  • Tidbits: Make the best of your road trip

    I didn’t care for road trips when I was young. It was so confining to have to sit in the back seat, staring out the window for hour after hour, hayfield after hayfield. And when you’re a kid, time doesn’t pass like it does when you get a little older. Just the trip from Jamestown, TN, to Crossville, roughly 30 miles, felt like an eternity!

    July 14, 2014

  • Stumptalk: Biased climate agenda will cost trillions

    For anyone who has been educated in the history of science and scientific method, this whole issue of “Global Warming” or “Climate Change” is an embarrassing and painful exercise.

    July 14, 2014

Marketplace Marquee
Parade
Must Read
Section Teases
Seasonal Content
AP Video
Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre House to Vote on Slimmed-down Bill for Border Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating 13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Weather Radar
2014 Readers' Choice
Graduation 2014