Knoxville — Have any of you visited McDonald’s or Walmart recently? Was the person who waited on you working?
My visits to those places have shown me people who worked hard, usually fast, to meet my needs. And yet, most of their jobs pay lousy wages and provide low – or no – benefits. They are at the lowest end of the income group that makes up 99 percent of us, while most of the money stays with the 1 percent on top. The gap between the two is greater than it’s been since the 1920s, and any income gains since the Recession have gone mostly to that top 1 percent.
I was thrilled a few weeks ago that McDonald's workers were on strike and that many Walmart employees were demonstrating. They should. We should be there with them.
They earn from 8 to 10 dollars an hour at McDonald's and average $8.81 an hour at Walmart. Besides, a third of Walmart’s work force is employed for less than 28 hours a week and therefore don’t qualify for benefits. In fact, we the people pay for most benefits they do receive – food stamps and emergency rooms.
These workers are attempting to live the American dream: a home and enough money to raise a family. Not possible at $8.81 an hour.
Since year 2000 productivity in our country has grown by nearly 20 percent. But the bottom 60 percent of working Americans are earning less than they did 13 years ago. Where’s the money?
Ah! The 50 biggest employers of low-wage workers are bringing in more dollars now than they did before the recession. McDonald’s CEO was awarded a compensation package last year valued at $13.8 million! Walmart? The Walton family business? That CEO received $20.7 million last year. The Walton family wealth exceeds the wealth of the bottom 40 percent of American families combined. (My numbers are from Robert Reich, former US Labor Secretary and creator of the film “Inequality for All.”)
Yes! McDonald's strikers. Yes! Walmart demonstrators!
We, the voters, could help. The minimum wage should be raised from $7.25 an hour to at least $10.50. Or the McDonald demand of $15/hour would be fine, too. How much food, medicine, mortgage, or rent can you afford at $7.25 an hour?
The consequences if the minimum wage goes up? Will these jobs be shipped overseas? No, these jobs will stay here. The Big Mac business needs living, breathing folks to keep the fries hot and the customers happy. Will prices go way up if the minimum wage goes up? No, big-box retailers and fast-food chains compete intensely for customers – they have to keep prices low.
If prices should creep up, paying a bit more to support our brothers and sisters in low wage jobs wouldn’t hurt most of us. The big dollars for better wages though need to come from the top, from the land of those CEO compensation packages, from the shareholders, from the whole corporate structure that allows so much money to go to so few. It might mean fewer contribution dollars to the politicians who currently voting continuing benefits for the rich. Raising the minimum wage significantly could give workers at the lowest end a real LIVING wage, boost our economy, our tax income, and our whole way of life!