There are many opinions circulating around the world expressing a viewpoint of American’s.  One often heard is: “You wealthy American’s what do you know of poverty?  Your poor are the best-dressed poor in the world.  You drive fancy cars, wear expensive clothing, you don’t understand.”

In a 2002 poll taken from voters in the U.S., an overwhelming 77 percent favored increasing the minimum wage set in 1997, from $5.15 to $8.00 an hour.  Moreover, 70 percent favored regularly raising the minimum wage to keep up with inflation.  The “hike” in minimum wage, based on data collected from the labor department of Clinton’s administration, showed at least 20,000 job losses.  The Employment Policies Institute calculated the “real” job loss was closer to 128,000.

The State of the Nation’s Housing report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University finds that . . . three in ten U. S. households have housing affordability problems, with l2.3 million households spending more than half of their income for housing.

In the U.S. the people have an obligation, an obligation to have a job. Having a job it seems defines a person.  More and more people are introduced by their trade, rather than by name.  I am a chef, what do you do? I am a student, what do you do? I am a sewing machine operator – it’s got to the point that if you don’t hold down a job you are ashamed to even admit you only have your first and last name!

Everyone is possessed with the idea of having a job. What is the driving force (beyond the obvious, to survive) in America today that has led to this “gotta-have-a-job” obsession?   This is a big question and big questions require big answers.  However, it isn’t always possible to provide the big answer.  But what can be provided is a presentation likened to planting a tree, calling it government, tracking its growth naming the branches “policies,” that can best explain its “fruits.”

It has been 65 years since the birth of the minimum wage then 25 cents, and the “rise” during those years to its current level, has amounted to an increase of a $4.90.

In 1932 during former Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 2nd term in office as the President of the United States, Roosevelt sought legislation to enlarge the Supreme Court and lost, but a revolution in constitutional law took place.  Thereafter the government could legally regulate the economy.

June 25, 2003 was the 65th anniversary of the day former U. S. President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 establishing the first federal minimum wage.

The Fair Labor Standards Act was one of many programs of the “New Deal” – Roosevelt’s vision of the reconstruction of America – conceived his first term in office in1932. The New Deal was engineered to forge public works programs as a solution to bring the nation out of the Great Depression. (A then youthful, Lyndon B. Johnson provided successful lobbying efforts to lend support of the New Deal).

Many economists and politicians were uneasy with the passing of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and expressed they feared that “things” would get worse – they did. More workers were thrown out of work and the depression then in its ninth year, got worse. 

Congress had so much as told people if you plan on being a wage earner their worth was expressed in terms of money and Congress was authorized to set the monetary amount.  And this amount was conveyed in the form of a law, the “minimum wage.” The minimum wage in 1938 was set at 25 cents an hour (equivalent to our current $2.89).

The minimum wage law soon became a national law. Immediately after its passage the Washington Post reported a huge lay-off of maids and unskilled workers. One Congressman, Carl Mapes of Grand Rapids, Michigan, disturbed by the law and the number of unskilled workers scrambling to keep their jobs, was cited as saying, “The enactment of this legislation, will further increase unemployment, not reduce it . . .It is bound to increase unemployment unless all human experience is reversed.”

Congressman Mapes’ statement was unfortunately a prophetic viewpoint.  Over the years, pennies-at-a-time increases in the minimum wage have priced minorities out of the market. And this was never more obvious than in 1956 when the minimum wage, which had stabilized for six years at 75 cents, was increased to $1.00 an hour (equivalent to our $5.99) and it resulted in a rise of unemployment from 14% to 24% of the non-white teenager’s over the next two years.

The increase of the minimum wage $5.15 an hour (equivalent to $5.23) in 1996, resulted in a similar reaction.  The unemployment figures, among black male teenagers, went from 37% to 41% almost immediately.  The Nobel Prize economist, Milton Friedman, once called the minimum wage “the most anti-black law on the books.”

The minorities were blacks, teenagers and women and those with no experience and limited skills. Also at risk were the workers that were developing skills whose labor was not yet worth the amount of money set by law.

If you were a child growing up in the 1950’s, (minimum wage was $1.00) there were people whom everybody knew to be “wealthy.”  There were very few who made this observation that had any idea what “wealthy” consisted of, and as for most observers, the wealth of a person was determined by the amount of owned land, the mansion-like lavishness of the home and the added luxuries, like automobiles and yachts.  The media, supporting this idea of wealth, usually newspapers, as most people couldn’t afford the luxury of owning a television, occasionally offered glimpses of the truly wealthy sometimes disembarking a plane, which, in those days travel by airplane was a luxury that was usually reserved for the wealthy. The only thing that mattered was they were “known to be” enormously wealthy.

Faced with the dilemma of reducing consumption or buying more consumer products, which was effectively marketed to the masses since the introduction of color television in 1954, most American families begin gravitating to opting to send the wife to work.

Then came the l960’s, John F. Kennedy was the country’s President, we entered the Viet Nam War. Wars cost money, money the government didn’t have.  When the government wants to spend more money than it has they simply print more money and that is precisely what the government did. That printed money was used to pay for the war and pay “entitlements”.

Remember Lyndon B. Johnson? He was the 36th U.S. President, he was in office 1963 – 1969. He was Vice President when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 and as a result, Johnson was sworn in as President, and seized the reins of power with new leader vengeance.

In 1964 Johnson’s rhetoric urging the Nation “to build a great society, a place where the meaning of man’s life matches the marvels of man’s labor” won Johnson the presidency with 51 percent of the vote and had the widest popular margin in American history – more than 15,000,000 votes.  In 1964 he launched his “Great Society” program.

“A Great Society” for the American people and their fellow men was the vision of Johnson in his first years of office. If this aptitude for “vision” appears as familiar, keep in mind that during 1937–38 he campaigned successfully for the House of Representatives on Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” Like Roosevelt, Johnson obtained passage of one of the most extensive legislative programs in the Nation’s history and in addition, maintaining collective security, he carried on the rapidly growing struggle to restrain Communist encroachment into the former French colonial outpost, Viet Nam.

Johnson’s Great Society program included a plan for entitlements, a legislative program that was to propel the U.S. towards its current economic conditions.  When his plan is reduced to layman understanding it is clear what his intention meant when this entitlement plan was enacted.  

These entitlements, “redistribution of income,” were given to all Americans considered poor by the sheer fact they had little or no taxable income.  Coincidentally, the emancipation of the blacks took place during this time and they were included in the entitlement program. Some of this redistribution came in the form of Pell Grants – free money to attend school and you’d never have to pay it back.  Some were Food Stamps and Aid to Dependent Children.

By providing entitlement’s to the poor, government offered people the way to become employable.  Thus producing personal income from an individual whom previously had no income.  Which in turn provided a taxpayer.  So progressed the organization of the working class.

In the1960’s the minimum wage was $1.00 to $1.60 by 1970.  The percentage of workers in the products industry was 27% and in the services industry 58%.

The city of New York up until the 70’s was a key employer of non-college – educated workers and recently arrived immigrants. Today, four of the top six accounting firms, six of the ten biggest consulting companies and all ten top securities firms are headquartered in Manhattan.  New York is home base for two of the three largest television networks and the biggest media company (AOL-Time Warner), as well as the news operation of most of the others.  These industries and the high-end services along with the massive flourishing tourism industry account for the huge private enterprise employer sector in this city.

Los Angeles is the nation’s largest port and also home to the nation’s biggest garment industry, and the focus of worldwide entertainment.

There are 150 different nationalities in the world and you would swear there is a fair number of representatives of that figure that live and work in the U.S. and most are concentrated in New York and Los Angeles.

While most of the working class is profiled as workers who are generally people of color and don’t speak English, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of this group retaining within its ranks a strong representation of English speaking Americans. The working class wage earner is typically associated with the industrial and service industry.  The working class amount’s to 30% of the workforce, according to a report issued in 1998, by the Washington based Economic Policy Institute. These workers generally are those who do not possess capital or property and must sell their labor to survive. This workforce typically earns $8.00 or less an hour.  

Now we all know there are exceptions to the following examples, but by way of explanation for the 30%, who may very well be our young daughter or son, it may well be worth it to pay attention to some of these facts.

The working class title can be linked to the unskilled worker who works for $6.00 an hour at Wendy’s or as a hotel front desk clerk.

An individual without job skills may also look to employment opportunities offered in restaurants, which offer some degree of “making ends meet,” but this is a dead-end position, not much of an opportunity to make it up the corporate ladder. But they do offer a reliable source for impromptu employment if you are moving around. If someone has no other option for employment, be prepared to be able to survive on as little as $2.50 an hour plus tips, if one seeks a server job in a tourist area during the off-season.  Hardly seems humane. The kitchen help deserve some consideration as they too are a part of the working class. It’s no wonder the turnover in restaurant employment is high.

The turnover in the hotel/motel business is so relentless that the want ad in the newspapers requesting help is there continuously “just in case.”

In a 1997 report, “Myths and Facts about Homelessness” from the National Coalition for the Homeless, nearly 1/5 of all homeless people in 29 cities across the nation are employed in full or part-time jobs.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless in 1998 – it took on average nationwide an hourly wage of $8.89 to afford a one (1) bedroom apartment.

The demand for skilled or multi-skilled workers has increased with the growth of information technology.  Manufacturing businesses have developed processes that require workers to learn and perform multiple tasks. 

Temporary employment has increased nearly 400% in the USA since the early 1980’s and it’s predicted that a quarter of the workforce could be working in non-traditional employment arrangements by the year 2020.

The Department of Transportation estimated that 15 million workers in the U. S. would be telecommuting by the year 2002.

Jobs have become less stable and secure.  Workload demands continue to grow and hours of work have increased in all occupations.  One study has shown that the non-agricultural salaried workforce that worked in excess of 48 hours a week, grew 30% to over 21 million workers in the period of 1985 to 1993.

Now we have more money in circulation chasing the same goods and services, and this is the important point, and the one most people get confused, prices don’t go up, the value of their money goes down.

Prices of things like steak and homes went up much faster than people’s incomes. Therefore, we can understand how the inflation that struck America from the l960 through l987, was simply caused by more money being in circulation. And inflation still exists.

Such is the power of inflation to drive a whole nation to workaholic behavior.  It has been a con job.


(2004) “I’m Worth WHAT?” (MinWage Disc.) — No Comments

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