Saturday, June 17, 2006

Jobs and income

Note: See minimum wage updates at end of post.

Labor blogger Nathan Newman has hit on a major reason I'm not the Mark Warner supporter that so many of my fellow Virginia Democrats are. Mind you, he was for the most part the right governor for the fiscal and political ditch we were in when he was elected in 2001 (if you squint your eyes just so to avoid looking at his worse-than-crappy environmental record), but he's exactly what we don't need in the White House now.

In the winter of 2004-5, Warner told a small gathering of local Dems that most Virginia localities would be thrilled to have our area's low unemployment rate. My colleagues all nodded earnestly. I was impolite enough to mention that jobs by themselves aren't enough -- about a third of Rockbridge county households scrape by on less than $20,000 a year. He looked at me as if I were from Mars.

I got special pleasure, then, when the governor was publicly needled on his failure to comprehend that income and jobs are two different things. Speaking at the Buena Vista Labor Day breakfast, Leslie Byrne, our Lt. Governor candidate, passed on the comments of a woman who'd come up to her after a campaign stop with Warner: "I was interested to hear the Governor talk about all those jobs that have been created. I know it's true, 'cause I've got three of 'em."

Huge laugh and the most applause of any line of that speech-filled day.

I have some optimism that our next Senator, Jim Webb, sees things Byrne's way; her early endorsement was a big factor in overcoming "but he was a Republican" sentiment among primary voters.

Speaking of wages and income: A vote on Kennedy's bill to increase the federal minimum wage to $7.25 may come up in the Senate early next week. John Edwards is gathering signatures to support it. (Bonus at that link: lots of pointers to solid information on federal and state minimum wage.) The Kennedy bill is unlikely to pass, but it could be a different story in January, if we get the new Senate we deserve. Make your Senators take a position!

The minimum wage is a disgrace; currently at its lowest level relative to average U.S. hourly wages in almost 50 years, and at almost the lowest level in real purchasing power in that same period.

Update: Wednesday, 21 June - Kennedy's minimum wage vehicle is a proposed amendment to the defense spending bill. Debate is continuing this morning. Monday Frist tried to kill a clean vote by adding a poison-pill anti-abortion amendment to the Kennedy amendment, but withdrew it yesterday. Vote should come today; there's still time to call your Senators.

Update 2: Thursday, 22 June - The Kennedy amendment won a majority of votes, 52-46, but unbeknownst to me the Republicans had engineered a rules agreement requiring it to get 60 votes or be withdrawn. This was done to allow "moderate" Republicans to vote for the Kennedy bill and their party's inadequate increase proposal without any danger of either one passing. (R's proposed a raise to $6.25, not enough to lift the families of minimum-wage breadwinners out of poverty.)

Typical. Political theater while more Americans struggle and suffer. Last week, House members voted themselves a pay raise of more than $3000. Since the last increase in the minimum wage, ten years ago, members of Congress have voted themselves nine raises totaling nearly $35,000 a year. So, never mind their six-figure salaries: Congressional pay raises alone are more than three times the entire yearly earnings of a full-time minimum wage worker. ($10,712; h/t Working Families/AFL-CIO).



At 5:30 PM, June 26, 2006, Blogger josh narins said...

The minimum wage doesn't take into account age or cost of living.

Would you support making it more complex so that it did?

How would you address the cost of living issue? Census data exists, for each county in America, for costs of housing. Past that, though, information is not currently available.

At 2:16 PM, June 29, 2006, Blogger Nell said...

Would you support making it more complex so that it did?

No, I wouldn't. Minimum wages are just that, a minimum. They aren't even close to a living wage, but only a few locales are responsive enough to grassroots politics for that to be anything other than a dream.

States have different relationships to the federal minimum (some higher), which compensates somewhat for cost of living. You might want to take a look at the link in my post to the info resources on wages; among other things are age breakdowns of minimum wage workers, and state minimums.


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