The State of the Low Wage Workers

wotwubobby-jindal-1Raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would not only help those who work minimum wage jobs, but will raise the standard of living for all low wage workers as compensation adjusts at the lower end of the pool. Which is probably why Fox News complains that fairer compensation is just soooo unpopular and why Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is hilariously declaring  that the POTUS is “raising the white flag” on unemployment (because keeping wages low leads to more buying and therefore more employment?) and calling Obama the “Minimum Wage President” – which is a step up from being called the “Food Stamp President” I guess?

It sounds like Jindal thinks lowly of people who work low wage jobs and this attack is his way of linking President Obama to undesirable members of society. We, my friends, are just a step above ruffians and scalawags. Or are we scalawags? But today we won’t focus on the h8trz or their h8trzaide, we want to focus on the state of low wage workers and on how we can improve our circumstances.

According to a study put together by the AP called “America’s Lower Wage Workforce: Employer and Worker Perspectives”:

Recent analyses suggest that half of the U.S. jobs lost during the Great Recession were middle-class jobs, but that only 2 percent of the jobs gained during the recovery pay middle-class wages.

Instead, these disappearing middle-class jobs are being replaced by lower-wage positions with 70 percent of recovery jobs growth occurring in lower-wage industries.


Compared to national averages, lower-wage workers [those making $35,000 or less a year, according to this study] are far less likely to be satisfied in their job or to feel valued for the work they do. Lower-wage workers perceive few opportunities for advancement moving forward and many have not yet advanced in their current jobs. Pessimism is especially acute among whites and younger workers.

The study also demonstrates low-wage jobs have few opportunities for advancement, even though they offer training. However, the training is not relevant to other career opportunities available outside the company.

Tellingly, according to the study, thirty-five percent (more than one-third) of low wage earners worry “a lot” about not being able to pay bills. Another 36% worry “some” about not paying those bills. Similar numbers worry about facing sudden medical bills. That is, 71% of American low-wage workers are worried about having to pay bills in the first place. Additionally, 69% of USAmericans worry about suffering the economic effects of some sudden illness or catastrophe because, 1) their company doesn’t cover them adequately (if at all) and 2) their country doesn’t cover them (likely not at all). More than a quarter of these same workers are highly concerned about losing their jobs, for job security is not a guarantee in this economy. Employers tend to demand loyalty, but do not extend it. Over half of low-wage workers also worry about paying rent and mortgage.

These are the basic necessities of life, and yet they are the constant worries of the working poor. This is not just; this is not right.

What about the call from conservative pundits and ditto-heads that if someone in a minimum wage or low paying job doesn’t like her pay or options, she should get a high school GED? That may have been true in 1968, when less than half of the bottom-fifth of workers had a diploma, but now 79% do. Should the other 21% of workers be punished because school wasn’t their thing, because they were forced out of school, or they had family situations they couldn’t wrestle against, or because they underwent brutal bullying that led to their dropping out, or because they made mistakes like everybody but likely didn’t have the safety net that wealthier folks have? As progressives, we need to not let the right wing establish the playing field for us. We fight for the rights of all workers regardless of educational achievement. But the fact is that the clear majority of low-wage earners finished high school.

And this while wages for the lowest fifth have dropped significantly over that period of time. Even as we’re significantly more educated. And as production has increased, also significantly. (ibid)

Next, Fox N00bz will argue that low wage earners should go to college if they want to live well. But 46% of low wage earners have at least some college experience (ibid) – including yours truly, with a Bachelors and working on a Masters. In fact, adjunct faculty at most colleges have at least a Masters and the majority get by on poverty wages while teaching tomorrow’s leaders and workforce. They also have the additional bonus of having to pay off school loans. In fact, adjunct faculty end up in homeless shelters, many without basic health insurance, living off food stamps. Professors teaching college students are, ironically, low wage workers.

MSNBC’s Timothy Noah, backed by the Economic Policy Institute says:

If we were to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, as Iowa Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin and California Democrat Rep. George Miller have proposed and President Obama supports, you wouldn’t just be boosting income for the 17 million workers currently making between $7.25 an hour (or a bit more in some states that have their own minimum wage) and $10.10 an hour. Indirectly, you’d also be boosting, to a fairly predictable extent, income for another 11 million workers making slightly more than $10.10, for a total cohort of 28 million. And the average worker in this larger group provides fully half of his or her family income.

We can all work harder (and we should); we can all attain the highest level of education we’re good with (yes we can!); and we can all lean-in as much as we want, but the problem isn’t our lack of effort. Our problem is that we are being forced to push against each other. The walls close in on us – it may be time to bring the hammer down on that wall, progressives.


When he’s not riding both his city’s public transit system and evil mayor, Jasdye teaches at a community college and writes about the intersection of equality and faith - with an occasional focus on Chicago - at the Left Cheek blog and on the Left Cheek: the Blog Facebook page. Check out more from Jasdye in his archives as well!


Facebook comments

  • Shadow Laviolette

    I am making $10.50 an hour in a unique environment. it is an entertainment facility and I work in the food court. I AM a fast food worker. I call in sick, or because my child is sick, I could get fired. I make JUST enough to live in a trashy, unsafe, ill maintained apartment and YES I used to get food stamps but now i do not because I make too much.
    Every day I have to take pain killers to fall asleep because my legs and feet hurt so much from walking and standing on tile floors for 7-11 hours each shift and that seems like a “woe is me” thing to say, but you try living a happy, healthy well balanced life when every moment you are either working, or it hurts to walk. I can’t do anything medically about it because even though I could take a leave of absence for medical reasons to repair what hurts, I would then lose my home because it is unpaid time off. It would take me nearly 2 years to save up the equivalent of 2 weeks pay to cover it.
    I do get good medical insurance, and free immunizations as an adult and even access to an urgent care clinic for free, That is one good thing.

    $10.10 an hour and the ACA are good starts, but until minimum wage will get someone a safe home, heat, water, a phone, and internet (yes it is a necessity these days because even job applications are almost all done online, public aid, and school assignments for kids are not all things that can be done at the library), and food, clothing and personal maintenance, then minimum wage has failed. Irregardless of a persons education level.

    • Pipercat

      The argument against is: You’re paid for your skill level. Yet, you perfectly articulated that difficulty, no matter the skill involved, is not valued as something to be compensated for.

    • Sandy Greer

      You keep the faith, Laviolette. Thank you for speaking out.

    • YESSSSS!!!

  • Sandy Greer

    I think the Minimum Wage should be $15. At LEAST. And that it should keep pace with inflation; regular raises.

    We have survived Minimum Wage hikes before; we will survive this, should it come to fruition. The economy…always survives, somehow. We are still here.

    Some argue against Minimum Wage, under the mistaken notion only teenagers work for Minimum Wage, at McDonald’s. Not true THESE days, if it ever was. THESE days, FAMILIES are being raised on Minimum Wage.

    If an employer cannot afford to pay a living wage (defined as not needing govt assistance to supplement) then that employer should not be in business. For he is feeding off the labor of others. And taking their ‘heart’.

    As a consumer, I WOULD be willing to pay more for goods and services. God forbid, I should live in comfort, while others go without basic necessities.

    • terry63

      It will for a short while Sandy, until the market catch’s up with $15 minimum. Afterwards you have only acheived to Inflate the cost of living again. This increase must be paid for. Producers will not take this on the chin, they will increase rates and or lay off employees. In an economy such as ours it will have the opposite effect as those making 20 dollars and hour will be dragged kicking and screaming back to poverty. The Minimum wage increase works best in a growing economy. It will not work at all in a stagnent one. It will only increase poverty. Obama, care has already promised a drop in hours for low wage workers as well as maybe middle class and a hike in Taxes and Premiums. The left thinks thats fine, now you dont have to work. You can stay home, bare foot and pregnant. You see they gave it away. They admitted it. Pelosi has said that Obama care will help you to escape your job.They have givin up on the economy. It is no longer a priority. embrace the suck!

      • Sandy Greer

        You say that like you actually believe prices don’t rise, irrespective of what the Minimum Wage does.

        Chicken Little always cries the sky is falling, every single time we try to raise living standards for the poor. But the sky never falls.

        What is one to say about a person who can read what Laviolette has posted, and not have so much as a word of kindness for her? But rather, takes ‘issue’ with those who want to help.

        It takes a special kind of person to argue for status quo, when the status quo keeps so many in poverty. Just SMH at that.

        There is one consolation:

        People in this country know who would ‘lift’ the poor, and who sees a hand up as a hand out.

        ^^^And they vote, each and every one.

      • terry63

        Pay very close attention to whats about to happen to the poor, to the minimum wage employee on March 31st. Watch what happens to the income tax returns of those who really need that money to survive.Dont turn away and ignore it. I want you to see what’s coming. Then ask yourself. How will we pay for a minimum wage increase.

      • Sandy Greer

        Oh, good Lord, LOL Get a grip.

        You want to worry and fret for the next 10 days about the End of the World on Mar 31st?

        You go right ahead: Whatever floats your boat.

        Otherwise, go sell your Gloom and Doom somewhere else. ‘Cause nobody’s buying it here.

        I’ve already said it’s my opinion WE WILL SURVIVE, as we always do.

        Maybe I’ll see you again Apr 1st, and we’ll see if the sun still rises in the East, and if it still shines.

      • terry63

        I work part time In the local ER, of a county hospital. I have no benefits here and I work 3 days a week.
        My full time job is with an Oil platform that handles stock and Investment of U.S. and Canadian oil. ( Nothing to do with Keystone or the Koch brothers as far as I know) I have Blue cross and Blue sheild for insurance and I drive a company truck. I also live on a beautiful lake in Oklahoma. Its a sweet heart deal. I love my Jobs and I thank God for them. Last week a Nurse that I work with. A 21 year employee who rarely ever missed a day and did wonderful work with the the sick and injured was laid off.They gave her no warning, not even a thank you. We all were taken aback, this has been going on all over the Hospital, but we thought that we were safe. Were E.R. personnel. We at first thought that the hospital was cutting back in order to survive the current economy. We now have figured it out. Tammy was top of the food chain. as are most others that have been let go. A full time employee. She was receiving the most benefits. The people being laid off are being replaced with part time personnel. This is happening all over America. The 40 hour work week is an endangered species. The unemployment rate that the Government is giving out is simply a made up number. He really is fundamentally changeing America. Via healthcare, a threat to raise the minimum wage and Amnesty. Pelosi was right! Tammy can now stay home, she doesnt have to work that job anymore. Embrace the suck.

      • Sandy Greer

        I know people are being laid off, and that corporations/employers have been (when they can) starting with those at the ‘top of the food chain’ (the most benefits, or the most highly paid) and replacing them with part-timers. Or going to Contract Workers. For 10+ years, this has happened.

        They don’t want to pay benefits; don’t want to pay living wages. Some cases, it’s a business decision; other times, it’s just the ‘bottom line’ (greed/profit)

        ^^^Just another reason Unemployment should NOT have been cut (nor Food Stamps, but that’s another issue)

        Thank God, Tammy is young enough to recover. In some cases, employers start with 50+ employees (they’re generally paid more)

        But, you work full time (40 hrs?) on an oil platform AND a part-time ER job, as well? When do you have time to enjoy that beautiful lake house of yours? I assume you must be young, too, if you can work all those hours, LOL Good for you.

        I never ’embrace suck’; I’m a positive person, by nature. 😉

        Healthcare: I know people who had none, for YEARS. Bore, and raised, children, all with no Healthcare. Full-time work, too. You can imagine the expense, I suppose, working ER.

        ^^^Now they do, have Healthcare insurance. They are thankful/grateful, for the ‘fundamental change’.

  • terry63

    Raising the minimum wage is Raw inflation. It is meant to create a short burst in spending usually in a growing economy. We dont have that. Picture your self in a fighter jet. Your choice. You accelerate and pull vertical as you light up the engines. As you climb you can feel the kick in the butt acceleration ( growing Economy, creating a tax base via new Jobs)) But as you gain altitude you notice that your looseing air speed. The higher you get the more the weight to thrust ratio works against you.You can feel Recession taking hold. Soon your aircraft starts to shutter. Thats when you hit the minimum wage button. It will give you a boost. But only short term. Hitting that button will mean that you will pay more to fly. The JP8 fuel will cost you more as will your maintenence on the ground. every part of flying will cost more.
    But you dont have to worry about any of that. In todays economy Your jet is on the ground. The engine is removed and the ground crew cant determine how to light the engine. Raising the wage would spell disaster for you. The Airport will probably lay off a couple of Mechanics to pay for it and switch back to JP6 to save some dollars. Inflation against the weakness of the Dollar will destroy us all. Run away inflation is very real. It can and has happened to societies. America today is playing with fire. It has no tax base.(jobs) and so it borrows or prints money by the Trillions.A boost in the minimum wage today is a very dangerous thing.It could send America into a depression ending our default currency status which would mean that we could no longer print money at will. We would be doomed.