As we continue to talk about the minimum wage here in Seattle and across the country, it's important to remember that this movement hasn't grown out of some spontaneous realization by low-income workers that gee whiz, maybe they've been underpricing their labor.
The economic trends behind this growing national awareness of the poor treatment of low-wage workers? Well for one thing, there's a bunch of new low-wage workers. From yesterday's New York Times:
The deep recession wiped out primarily high-wage and middle-wage jobs. Yet the strongest employment growth during the sluggish recovery has been in low-wage work, at places like strip malls and fast-food restaurants.
In essence, the poor economy has replaced good jobs with bad ones. That is the conclusion of a new report from the National Employment Law Project, a research and advocacy group, analyzing employment trends four years into the recovery.
“Fast food is driving the bulk of the job growth at the low end—the job gains there are absolutely phenomenal,” said Michael Evangelist, the report’s author...
With joblessness high and job gains concentrated in low-wage industries, hundreds of thousands of Americans have accepted positions that pay less than they used to make, in some cases, sliding out of the middle class and into the ranks of the working poor.
That includes Connie Ogletree, a former administrative and executive assistant who now earns $7.25 an hour at a McDonald’s in Atlanta. “It was 40 years ago that I had my first fast-food job, at a Dairy Queen,” said Ms. Ogletree, 55. “This is my second.”
Read the rest here. (And go look at that goddamn chart, that is painful.)
In this debate over wage floors, there are people out there arguing that "flipping burgers" shouldn't earn you a living wage. That some jobs just don't deserve it. That the answer is education, the answer is better jobs, the answer is somehow getting out of that McDonald's hat before you get sucked into the quicksand of the poverty cycle, never making enough and therefore never getting ahead. But people are still going to be working there. These are the jobs that are available, this is the sector that is growing. What do we say to the growing ranks of working poor, people who got shoved out of the middle class? Because right now all they're getting is "Dear Poors, Fuck you! Love, Capitalism."
Connie Ogletree isn't asking for a CEO salary and a sports car. She's asking for basics—sick leave, a single vacation, enough money to help her go back to school at age 55. (How's she supposed to get that lifesaving education when it costs more and more every year?)
If Seattle can get its act together on the minimum wage and pass something, it'll be because thousands of low-wage workers decided to push back, and thousands of other people decided to push with them, and a movement was born. But it wasn't born just out of brilliant labor organizing or flashy $15 posters. It grew out of hundreds of thousands of Connie Ogletrees who weren't flipping burgers in 2008.