The Minimum Wage: From Barely Tolerable to Basically Criminal

In a capitalist system working people will always fall short of justice when it comes to wages, since the basic logic of the system dictates that a small group of owners appropriates the wealth generated by a company, which then reluctantly forks over a small portion of that wealth to the workers who created it. 

Despite this inherent limitation, however, there was a brief period in U.S. history after World War II when the average wages of U.S. worker rose at the same rate as their productivity, meaning, essentially, that workers were receiving wage increases that matched the wealth they were creating. Even the minimum wage, though too low to begin with, rose at the same rate as productivity until around 1970. This trend quickly reversed, however, and by 2012 the average real value of the minimum wage was less than it was in 1970, meaning that a minimum wage worker today can buy less with her income than a worker could over 40 years ago, despite the fact that the worker in 2012 is producing, on average, over 100% more wealth than the worker in 1970. Something's not right here, even by capitalist standards…

Why did this happen?

Despite this inherent limitation, however, there was a brief period in U.S. history after World War II when the average wages of U.S. worker rose at the same rate as their productivity, meaning, essentially, that workers were receiving wage increases that matched the wealth they were creating. Even the minimum wage, though too low to begin with, rose at the same rate as productivity until around 1970. This trend quickly reversed, however, and by 2012 the average real value of the minimum wage was less than it was in 1970, meaning that a minimum wage worker today can buy less with her income than a worker could over 40 years ago, despite the fact that the worker in 2012 is producing, on average, over 100% more wealth than the worker in 1970. Something's not right here, even by capitalist standards…

This disturbing increase in the gap between the wages and productivity of labor had many causes, such as the changing nature of the global economy, the increased mechanization of industrial work and the declining threat of the Soviet Union. Perhaps chief among them, however, was the precipitous fall of the power of the labor movement, which enjoyed the membership of around 30% of U.S. workers in the 1960s. By 2013 this figure had dropped to around 11%, and less than 7% in the private sector. Not surprisingly, given the vital importance of organized labor to push capitalist firms and the federal government in the direction of justice for working people, this dramatic decline in union density coincided exactly with a decline over 40 years in the real value of the minimum wage.

Where do we go from here?

Ultimately the minimum wage only works for those lucky enough to find a job - even a low paying one - and it doesn't really "work" for them, because it doesn't come with health benefits, adequate schools, or enough money to set aside for retirement. This is why a basic income for all Americans that is competitive with the labor market is a better long-term solution. Providing all Americans, regardless of current employment, with a living wage and adequate healthcare and education would not only ensure that Americans don't fall through the cracks of the capitalist system, but would also decrease the cost of losing a job (thereby increasing the flexibility of labor and in turn increasing economic efficiency), put upward pressure on the wages of American workers (who would no longer have to settle for poverty wages just to make ends meet), and ensure a high level of demand for the goods and services produced by U.S. workers (thereby helping to decrease the likelihood of economic recessions). Unfortunately, however, this strategy will remain a dream of those interested in a more just and humane society until we have rebuilt the power of the U.S. working class to such an extent that we can put real political and economic pressure on the 1% of Americans who currently dominate our political and economic lives.

In the meantime, we can Raise the Minimum Wage.  If the minimum wage had kept up with the increase in worker productivity since the 1960s, it would currently be at $21.72/hr, according to work done by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. This is clearly an unrealistic goal in our current political climate, given the power of the right at the federal level and in many state houses, and the fact that many highly-skilled folks in competitive industries such as education don’t even make that much an hour. However, even if we raised the minimum wage to one quarter of what it would be if it had kept up with productivity, the minimum wage would currently be at $12.25/hr. We think this is a realistic short-term goal and with your help and the help of thousands of working people around the country we can achieve it. At the very least, we need to raise the minimum wage to the level it would have been at if it had kept up which inflation, which would put the minimum wage at $10.52/hr. But we can only succeed if we are organized, and if we are militant. Get involved today!

 

Film Discussion: When Abortion Was Illegal

March 26, 2017
· 13 rsvps

Directed by Dorothy Fadiman, When Abortion Was Illegal (1992, nominated for an Academy Award, Best Documentary Short Subject) reveals through first-person accounts the experiences of women seeking abortion before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973. We are one Supreme Court nominee away from a return in many states to back-alley abortions. Join Amanda Williams, Executive Director of the Lilith Fund, to discuss challenges to reproductive justice and abortion access. (Lilith Fund funds abortions for women in need in the Central and South Texas area.) Learn about how to participate in April Bowl-A-Thons to raise funds for low-income women. View the film here for free before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

March 30, 2017
· 39 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

LGBT Activism: A Brief History with Thoughts about the Future

April 01, 2017
· 50 rsvps

Historian John D'Emilio's presentation will do 3 things: Provide a brief explanation of how sexual and gender identities have emerged; provide an overview of the progression of LGBT activism since its origins in the 1950s, highlighting key moments of change; and, finally, suggest what issues, from a democratic socialist perspective, deserve prioritizing now. John co-authored Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, which was quoted by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision that ruled state sodomy laws unconstitutional. 1 pm ET; 12 pm CT; 11 am MT; 10 am PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Peg Strobel, peg.strobel@sbcglobal.net.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 30 rsvps

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT. Here's a blog post about PHIT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

April 04, 2017
· 53 rsvps

Join Rahel Biru, NYC DSA co-chair, and Joseph Schwartz, DSA Vice-Chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement.  9 PM ET; 8 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 6 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Joseph Schwartz, schwartzjoem@gmail.com.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

What Is DSA? Training Call

April 05, 2017

If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Feminist Working Group

April 12, 2017
· 15 rsvps

People of all genders are welcome to join this call to discuss DSA's work on women's and LGBTQ issues, especially in light of the new political reality that we face after the elections.  9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

April 16, 2017
· 6 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT.