Wages Up but How High is Fair?

Chicago-Raise-the-Min-Wage-Rally-300x189New Orleans       Walmart has announced that over a half-million of its workers will get a raise to $9 now and up to $10 sometime in 2016 at the cost of one-billion dollars.  This is good news, so I won’t remind people of the Pinocchio stories the company has told for years about its so-called average wages.  The company is joining Gap, Target and others that have already said they are raising wages.  Aetna Insurance several weeks ago raised all of its workers to $16 per hour to lead the way.  Economists speculate that the labor market is finally beginning to tighten and that Walmart is recognizing the inevitability of wage increases, so wanted to jump ahead of the pack, embrace reality, and try to change its reputation as one of the country’s worst employers.

All of this is happening as President Obama tries to breathe some new life into his proposal to raise the minimum wage in various steps to $10.10 per hour which has been dead-on-arrival in Congress since it moved from his mind to his mouth.  Not to rain on the parade, but Congress will no doubt use the announcement by Walmart as the nation’s largest private sector employer as evidence that there is no need for new federal minimum wage legislation.

All of this is happening as many of us have been in lengthy conversations in recent months about how to move forward on a different “living wage” strategy.  The “fight for fifteen” has won huge publicity, but aside from Aetna, very little take-up, and, practically speaking, the notion that minimum wage fast food workers might suddenly find their wages doubling from the $7.25 they are earning now ranks somewhere next to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny on the reality scale.

What is fair and practicable?  Our brothers and sisters in Canada have tried to navigate their campaigns around figures produced by respected nonprofits that include day care cost and other facts that live for many of us only in our dreams.  A recently released poll in the States though found that there is 75% support among Americans for a $12.50 minimum wage achieved by the year 2020.  The same poll found that even in the South that number was supported by 74% including over 50% of Republicans.

We tried to reverse engineer the math using statistics based on the average housing cost in our cities for a single person to rent an apartment and assuming that would represent one-third of their income.  The results were interesting and would seem to resonate with people.  Using this formula a “living wage” now would look like the following:

Little Rock      $11.53

Baton Rouge   $11.59

Houston          $13.00

New Orleans   $13.24

Dallas              $13.56

The wage train is starting to rumble forward finally.  These numbers seem fair and make sense.  It’s campaign time!

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Please enjoy Green Day singing Working Class Hero

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Immigration Wedging Politics in United Kingdom Too

BNP-ImageNew Orleans    In the contentious midterm elections in the USA there were huge issues that were simply not core issues for the candidates. After all of the sound and fury about the Affordable Care Act, blah, blah, blah, the actual candidates seem to have come to grips with the fact that 11 million enrollees just might be on to something, so let’s tone it down. Where immigration has been a wedge issue for years and presidential candidates are still beating the drums, the story line on the midterm elections was more about the disaffection of Latinos with both parties because of the limited progress on any permanent immigration reform, than any sense that any candidates for either party were moving forward on the issue. President Obama reacted a bit to the news of Latino alienation by leaking more plans to maybe do something to ease the legalization process, but it just wasn’t much of an election issue.

Meanwhile immigration seems to be pushing the economy as a wedge issue in Europe.  The story line is confusing there as well.  On one hand there are regularly tragic stories of African immigrants trying to virtually swim their way to France and Spain.

And, then there is the United Kingdom where immigration is driving parties and people crazy left and right. The explanation is easy to grasp, but the party policies are impossible to understand. The weak economy has left too many finger pointing at new immigrants as job jumpers. The United Kingdom as a member of the European Union is part of the open borders program allowing anyone within the EU the ability to work in any of the member countries, and that’s the hot button that is being pressed in Britain. Conservative Party Prime Minister David Cameron has been trying to play footsie with the issue in a dangerous game by vowing to put membership in the EU to a 2015 referendum, the same year his government is up again on the ballot. The United Kingdom Independence Party, known as UKIP, has played the Tea Party, hardcore anti-immigrant hater role and eaten away deeply at the Conservative’s right flank.

Cameron has some slow learning problems in understanding the position of the other EU countries, betting the long shot that they will grant Britain concessions for fear of losing them from the EU. Meanwhile Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose robust economy and deep pockets, pretty much puts her and Germany in the drivers’ seat in really calling the shots there, and has toughened her stand on the issue saying that the UK position is near a “point of no return” and holding that freedom of movement is one of the cardinal principles of the European Union.

Even Britain’s Labour Party seems to be buckling on the issue, as its leader Ed Milliband is taking fire from the right in his party worried about the defection of more of their white working class voting core to the UKIPpers as well. In recent weeks he has enraged the left by arguing that he would insist that new immigrants be subjected to tougher standards barring them social benefits and requiring more English language skills before allowing them to enter the job market.

What a mess!

With yet another National Football League game heading to London, as the NFL tries to branch out to England and all of this anti-immigrant blurting from politicians and Tea Party wannabes, it’s becoming clear where this is really going. What we can expect next it seems is that the UK will drop out of the EU, and start lobbying to become the 51st state in the United States of America, realizing that being anti-immigrant is the perfect approach to getting the nod to come in. If the EU is too liberal for them, the US is just far enough to the right to feel like home.

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