You can't be middle class if you earn the minimum wage in America today.Second, here is the argument the right often uses to justify our declining standard of living:
The American dream and the American reality have collided. In America we have always said that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can take care of yourself and your family. But the minimum wage is just $5.15 per hour. With a 40-hour workweek, that comes to a gross income of $9,888 per year. Nobody can support a family, own a home, buy health insurance, or retire decently on $9,888 per year!
What's more, 30 million Americans -- one in four U.S. workers -- make less than $9 per hour, or just $17,280 a year. That's not a living wage either. [...]
In the 1950s middle-class families could live comfortably if just one parent worked. Today more than 60 percent of mothers with children under six are in the work force. Not only do both parents work but often at least one of those parents works two or more jobs. [...]
Cons argue that we have to choose between having high wages and having low prices. They are wrong.Finally, some people will say we don't really have a choice because corporations are struggling to pay wages and benefits and stay in business. Not so, says Hartmann:
Take the case of Wal-Mart. According to the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), Wal-Mart could pay each employee a dollar more per hour if the company increased its prices by a half penny per dollar. For example, a $2 pair of socks would then cost $2.01. This minimal increase would add up to $1,800 annually for each employee.
I wouldn't mind paying more for a pair of socks if it meant that my fellow Americans would be able to pay for good health care.
And I wouldn't mind paying one cent more for a pair of socks if it meant that parents could be home at night and on the weekends spending quality time with their kids. That's a real family value.
Here's what all this talk about wages really comes down to: Would you rather pay 10 percent more at Wal-Mart and get 30 percent more in your paycheck, or would you rather have lower prices and an even lower paycheck? That's the real choice: We're either spiraling up into a strong middle class, or we're spiraling down toward serfdom.
The choice is ultimately about whether we want to have a middle class in this country. [...]
The problem isn't the economy. Corporations are making more money than ever. The real income of people whose net worth exceeds $100 million is doubling.So, what can American workers do? What kind of power do we have? Hartmann says to fight back we must battle on two fronts:
What's happening is simple: The rich are getting richer and the entire spectrum of the middle class is disappearing.
We can easily trace this decline to Reagan's first public declaration of war on the middle class when he went after the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) in 1981. He broke the back of the air-traffic controllers' union and began the practice of using the Department of Labor -- traditionally the ally of workers -- against organized labor and working people.
Reagan liked to say he was against "big government." What he really meant was that he was against Roosevelt's New Deal. He was against Social Security, the minimum wage, free college education (he ended that in California as its governor), and programs like the WPA. He believed in the discredited concept of "trickle-down" economics -- the theory that if you create a corporatocracy, the rich will nobly spend some of their money to help the rest of us. The American people don't need handouts. Our workers just want to be paid a living wage for a fair day's work. We can't count on the corporatocracy to give us what we earn, so we need a strong labor movement to give us the power to negotiate our wages and benefits. Ultimately, it's all about power. [...]
First, we must recognize and reclaim the government programs that create a middle class (I've abbreviated his list):Think about this in November. YOU have the power to take back the American Dream for all working Americans.
- Return to the American people our ownership of the military, the prison system, and the ballot box.When America has a strong middle class, democracy will follow. The opposite is also true. To fight back, we must also make use of the ballot box. We can achieve the economic programs that make the middle class possible by using the power of our democracy to vote for those politicians who support the middle class. We've been conned for long enough. It's time to take back America.
- Fight for free and public education...
- Fight for a national single-payer health-care system based on Medicare.
- Fight for Social Security -- do not let it be privatized or co-opted.
- Fight for progressive taxation... and use the money to pay back the Social Security system and to fund an economic investment program.
- Fight for a living wage and for the right of labor to organize.
- Fight for a national energy program that puts people and the planet -- not Big Oil -- first.