Tag Archives: South

2020 State Minimum Wages

Raising Minimum Wages, Good So Far

New Orleans       While much of the country is stuck at the level of the federal minimum wage, there are enough states and cities that have nudged the numbers up that economists and others are starting to be able to tell with certainty whether the competing claims are correct.  Opponents argue that raising wages above plantation level reduces the number of jobs.  Proponents, and I’m in that number, have claimed that the benefits of increasing wages, lowering inequality, and putting more money into local economies, wildly offsets any small job loss, if in fact, any jobs at all are lost.

Arindrajit Dube, an economist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, did a study of state minimum wage increases in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Massachusetts, and New York.  These states had bumped up the numbers in recent years to at least $10.50 per hour through 2018.  The impact would have been directly felt by 20% of the workforce, not counting the multiplier impact of increases for other workers in order to prevent compression of wages causing non-minimum wage workers to feel crimped and resentful of the increases.  Professor Dube found that the job losses were minimal, although not painless.  He found that some businesses raised prices, others improved production methodology, and some actually absorbed the increases by reducing their profit margins.

All of this is good news for our case.  Additional studies in New York State, as well as reporting by the New York Times, seem to confirm that even in the border counties between New York, with an escalating minimum wage now, and Pennsylvania still stuck at $7.25, there were minimal adverse impacts for workers on job losses.  Obviously, it helps that the economy has been good and unemployment low, making this an ideal time, economically, to push wages up from the bottom.

In the days of ACORN’s living wage campaigns, we have gone back and forth over the years with Professor David Neumark, an economist at the University of California at Irvine, who has long studied minimum wage impacts on workers.  He cautions that the results in these relatively higher wage states might not translate in the South “where low-wage workers aren’t evenly distributed across industries and ‘you have fewer and fewer avenues of adjustment.’”  Since there’s absolutely no immediate danger of Southern states getting the raise wages religion for workers, it will be awhile before we have to struggle with this problem.  Meanwhile we are forced to live through the galloping gap between lower wage and higher wage states that is occurring with no action on the federal minimum wage, meant to cope with this problem.

Now, if only the reason that wages weren’t rising was based on the facts, rather than stone cold ideology, we would be in good shape.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Storm Clouds Over Southern Labor

Sanitation Workers strike in Memphis in 1968

Atlanta   After the a two-ringed circus in Atlanta where I met with our the four graduate social work school interns who are working with the ACORN Home Savers Campaign for the next semester and the screening of The Organizer at the Andrew Young Center on campus, I got to visit with several veteran union organizers for a bit. It was cold, windy, and rainy outside, and that pretty much characterized the reports I was getting of the current labor organizing progress in the field. It was all uphill and in the teeth of the wind, both from outside forces and increasingly internal inertia.

One film watcher was an old veteran of the textile wars as an organizer for the legendary ILGWU, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. I asked him when he had worked them and when he said the late 1970s and early 1980s, I couldn’t resist mentioning Art Martin who had run a local in Arkansas earlier in the 70s and then later in the Carolinas. Sure enough, he had worked for Art in Charlotte, and was shocked to hear of his passing some years ago. I asked if he had noticed Art in several frames of the movie, and he laughed, saying he thought someone looked familiar, but didn’t place the context since the picture was of Art during the Quorum Court effort in Pulaski County 45 years ago. As for any talk about organizing in what’s left of the textile industry in the South? Not much to say there.

Ben Speight, who many claim is the best labor organizer in the Atlanta area and a former ACORN organizer as well, told the story of his efforts to organize 500 sanitation workers in a neighboring county with the Teamsters. Their effort over several years had won a couple of raises of the workers and a number of other improvements, but despite repeated efforts organizationally and politically, had failed to win either dues deduction or recognition for the union, so the effort was waning. He had been at a Martin Luther King breakfast before coming to the screening. He was surprised among all of the political speakers at the event that there had not been one speaker from the labor movement or any union, despite this being the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination while in Memphis supporting the strike of the garbage workers in that city.

Visiting with my old friend and comrade, Ken Johnson, who not so long ago retired as regional director of the AFL-CIO in the South, there wasn’t much good news from that quarter either. We spent time talking about the Southern Regional Council where he had worked before the AFL-CIO, because we couldn’t find much to say about big, new organizing either one of us was hearing about in the south. Going through the list of names we had in common, many of them had moved far afield to even find organizing or union work. Any discussion of developments at the NLRB or the Department of Labor was short shrift. No good news there.

One question that had come up after the screening asked about how social media was changing the organizing. The brother said he had observed people were more than willing to “post” something, but seemed to have no interest in hitting the streets or shops. The work and workers are here, but the connections aren’t coming together.

People still like to talk about organizing in the south, but not too many unions are doing any of it.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail