Worker Shortages Are Pushing Wages Up at the Bottom

New Orleans       With more than twenty candidates signed up for the Democratic primary, they are undoubtedly getting more advice than they want from all corners, friend and foe, including for many that they need to get out of the race, so who am I to throw water on their fire?  Regardless, I’ll say this one thing more than one year out, remember James Carville’s line, “it’s the economy, stupid!”  Once they do, they need to not take lower wage, service workers for granted in the race against Trump, nor should they mistakenly assume they will turn out in huge numbers to beat him despite the rising inequality, his tax cuts for the corporations and the rich, his anti-immigrant and anti-poor positions and policies, and the endless list of other infractions and embarrassments in the White House.

Why?  Because record unemployment is finally forcing wages up at the grassroots.  I’ll tell you from the frontlines of the battlefield how I know.

A chain of nursing homes where our union, Local 100, United Labor Unions, has a contract for a number of homes in Shreveport in north Louisiana, had changed hands over recent years.  One company in more of a real estate play got in trouble with a REIT and had to declare bankruptcy.  A new one has taken over and was bargaining the successor contract for the homes with us.  We made our proposal to improve wages, and they came back.  We are now going to have a starting wage there of $11 per hour, a significant jump in the land of $7.25 minimums, and there were seniority bumps and shift differentials.

Was this one off, you might ask?  No, another contract that came up in Napoleonville on the west side of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge at another nursing home a month ago.  There we also won record increases on starting wages and up and down the scale of almost a dollar an hour.

Did we just become stronger or better?  I wish!

The reality is that we are catching the wave of record, 50-year lows in unemployment rates close to statistical full employment.  Nursing homes require certified nurse aides, so it’s not simply hire-off-the-street, even though companies have not always valued the wages in the same way.

This wave of wage increases shows up in the Fight for $15 effort certainly and has spread to mass employers like McDonalds, Walmart, Amazon, and many others, who can’t get the workers they need.  I’m not pretending this is trickle-down and every boat will rise.  That won’t happen with the level of precariousness, gigging, and less than full-time work. Nonetheless, there are going to be a ton of lower wage workers who would normally be base voters, and still might be, but who are going to hit the polls with more money in their pockets, and less desperate to throw the bum out.  They won’t be focused on whether this employment run is a continuation of the Obama recovery and whether or not Trump’s claims are valid, but they will know their money is better.

Anyone taking these voters for granted will lose badly.  They aren’t Trump voters, but truth to tell, many of them are not chronic voters, so the message to our members and many millions more is going to have to be better than, “come out and vote for anybody but….”  They don’t like him, but they won’t break a leg to beat him, because they don’t like the elites any better than he does, and for all the sound and fury, they will know their money is better now, even if the rich are richer.

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Colleges Are Key for Wages and We’re Failing Students

New Orleans    Living in the southern and western states in the United States, sometimes it seems we just can’t catch a break.  Back to back analyses of critical income factors in the papers spell trouble on multiple fronts.  Walk with me on this a while.

More people are leaving a majority of the largest metropolitan areas of the country than coming.  Mainly this is happening in the ones where income levels are the highest, and educational requirements are also steep.  A series of charts in the New York Times established that for working stiffs on the low end of the service and production ladders, income gains were negligible to negative if someone picked up their family and made like the Joad family and moved to someplace like Silicon Valley from Oklahoma or Alabama. On the other hand, a lawyer on the same drive-by stood to make out like a bandit. Without saying it plainly, the outmigration in many cases is tracked to states with lower income prospects and outside of the major metros.  These are families and/or workers going back home where they can get a job and afford the rent and being displaced by the modern demands on the workforce.

In these cases, education at a certain higher-level matters.  Other recent reports are clear that just some higher education doesn’t do the job without a college degree, only moving the needle on projected income by 6 to 8% on lifetime earnings.  Message to many: if you’re going to go to college, you darned well better finish or you’re larding on debt for nothing for you or your family.

About one in three college entrants don’t make it to graduation over six years, but as Times’ reporters state clearly from looking at the data on 368 institutions, “the problem isn’t the students – it’s the schools.”  Get the hanging rope!

And, once you have it, you don’t have to walk too far.  Shamefully, in the top 15 schools that are failing the most in terms of expected graduation rates versus actual graduation rates, institutions in the south and west dominate.  At the bottom of the list is the University of Wyoming, but right next to it is the University of New Orleans hardly five miles away from me in one of the poorest cities in the US, and this is a clue to why.  Lamar in Beaumont, Texas less than four hours away is even worse.  You can see where this is going.  In the bottom fifteen, Arkansas is tragically well represented with the University of Central Arkansas in Conway right there along with Henderson State.  The University of Houston is on the list as well.  Two are in Oklahoma and North Dakota.  Not surprisingly Nevada, Alabama, and Nebraska are also on the list.  Two in Indiana and one in Minnesota make an appearance for the Midwest.

The ones that succeed, actually invest in their students and track them assiduously through the college process to see that more make it.  As the reports note, “When college leaders, in any region, decide they’re no longer willing to accept subpar graduation rates, they can do something about it.”  So, what about the rest of these laggards?  What kind of a crime is it to take young people with hopes and aspirations for the future, and lose them in the maze of inattention, saddle them with debt, and track their lives along with that of their communities, cities, and states down the low road to lives different than their potential?

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