Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Myths And Reality About Low-Wage U.S. Workers

(This chart uses information from

The chart above shows the minimum wage since 1968 in 2014 dollars. The minimum wage had its highest buying power in 1968, when it was equivalent to a 2014 wage of $10.75 an hour. In 2014, that wage was only $7.25 an hour -- and today its buying power is even less than $7.25 an hour in 2014 dollars.

That is far below a livable wage (which most put at about $15.00 an hour). The current minimum wage, and wages close to it, condemn millions of workers to live in poverty. These are not lazy people. They are people who work hard. They simply are paid a poverty wage by their employers.

Many of the families supported by these hard-working, but low-wage workers, must receive government benefits to eke out even a subsistence living level. That means the taxpayers are subsidizing the wages of those employers (many of whom, like Walmart, are making many billions in profit).

It is wrong for employers to pay a poverty wage, and expect taxpayers to subsidize their employees so they can make larger profits. All businesses should pay their workers a livable wage.

That won't happen as long as the Republicans remain in power. They refuse to raise the minimum wage at all -- let alone to a livable wage. And some of them would like to abolish the minimum wage, and let employers pay even less than current wage (which is a poverty wage). To justify their defense of greedy employers, the GOP tells several myths (LIES!) about low-wage workers.

Here, from Mary Babic at Oxfam, are the lies the GOP most often tells:

Myth #1: Most workers in low-wage jobs are young or starting out at the entry level.
If you define a “low” wage as under $15 per hour, you’re referring to almost half the workforce in the US.
Today 73 percent of workers earning under $15 per hour nationwide are older than 25. Overall, 58 million workers (44 percent) earn under $15 an hour; 42 million earn under $12 an hour. Many are parents of young children. Over 125 million people, including over 31.5 million children, live in households with at least one worker earning under $15 an hour. That’s more than 42 percent of the children in the US. Roughly one third of parents earning low wages are single parents.
While some workers may find ladders out of low-wage jobs, millions stay in these jobs for their working lives. For example, the median age of the more than 1.4 million home care aides in the US is 45; nearly half graduated high school and have had some college education; the majority work full-time. However, with a median wage of $10.25 an hour, 54 percent live near poverty. This is one of the fastest-growing occupations in the US, projected to increase by 26 percent in the next ten years.
For decades, US workers have faced wage stagnation and a federal minimum wage that has not budged since Congress last raised it in 2009 certainly has not helped. For seven years, it’s been stuck at $7.25 an hour: $290 a week, $15,000 a year. In that time, the cost of groceries has increased 25 percent; rent has increased over 50 percent.
Myth #2: Most employers provide workers with earned sick time after a certain tenure on the job.
Not only is this not true, in a cruel twist of fate, it has a disproportionate effect on those who can least afford it. In the private sector, well-paid workers are much more likely to enjoy paid sick leave than low-wage workers: 80 percent of high-wage workers have sick time vs. 15 percent of low-wage workers.
The US is unique among developed nations in not requiring employers to provide sick days. In fact, the law does not even protect workers from being fired if they miss work due to illness. In a recent Oxfam survey, one in seven low-wage women workers reported having lost a job as a result of taking a sick day.
This leaves low-wage workers gingerly walking a tightrope over a vertiginous drop, often holding hands with young children and aging parents, praying that no one will catch a cold, contract the flu, break a bone, or get a stomach bug. Any hitch, and they could all be falling toward economic catastrophe: days or weeks without pay can mean missing rent, skimping on groceries, turning off the heat.
Myth #3: The low-wage workforce cuts across all populations: race, gender, age
While this has an element of truth, the core reality is that women and people of color do more than their fair share of low-wage work.
The majority of low-wage workers are white, but black and Hispanic workers are far more likely to be in low-wage jobs. More than half (53 percent) of black workers and 60 percent of Hispanic workers earn under $15 an hour. In some states, the numbers are staggering: in North Carolina, three quarters of Hispanic workers earn under $15 an hour.
Despite women representing less than half of the workforce (49 percent), they are well over half (nearly 55 percent) of those earning under $12 an hour. Many low-wage occupations (childcare workers, cashiers) are dominated by women. Even in other occupations, however, women earn less per hour than do men.
Finally, black and Hispanic women earn the lowest median wages per hour of any group. Hispanic women earn slightly more than half of what white men earn, roughly 54 cents to the dollar; black women make 64 cents to the dollar.
Myth #4: Working longer and harder will pay off.
After years of hard work and long hours, some workers start the climb up the ladder to better jobs. They may become managers of the fast food franchise, or shift supervisors on the line in a plant. They may shift from hourly to salaried, and enjoy an increase in benefits and flexibility.
Or not. They may find they’re working longer hours and seeing their pay actually shrink per hour. Until the Obama administration recently raised the threshold for overtime pay, the cap had been stuck at $23,600 since 1975. Any salaried worker making more than that would not be compensated at “time and a half” for hours worked beyond 40 per week. This included about 92 percent of the salaried workforce – and clearly brought many more benefits to employers than modestly paid employees.
In May, the threshold was raised to $47,476, which impacts 12.5 million workers, especially women and people of color.  Still, some in Congress are threatening to block implementation of the updated rule.
Myth #5: Most jobs pay a living wage.
Of the top ten occupations in the US in 2015, only two pay a median wage of over $15.25 an hour: registered nurses and secretaries. The top three are retail sales at $10.47, cashiers at $9.82, and food preparation and serving at $9.09.
Nationwide, more than 11 million people in these occupations alone (mostly women) scramble to sustain families on wages that often fall well below the official federal poverty guidelines.
Many of them find they simply cannot survive on these wages, and turn to government programs and private charities for help. A recent study from the Economic Policy Institute estimates that 41 million workers tap public assistance programssuch as food stamps, housing subsidies, and cash assistance. Overall, it mounts up to over $200 billion a year in taxpayer dollars.

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