By increasing the minimum wage, implementing a green new deal and taxing the rich their fair share we can build a more equitable future
U.S. billionaire wealth jumped 55% during the pandemic with an increase of $1.6 trillion in total wealth. According to the Federal Reserve, the combined wealth of the bottom half of all U.S. households, 165 million people, is $2.4 trillion in total wealth, compared to the $4.56 trillion in total wealth from a total of around 700 billionaires. Things are only getting worse for those not at the top—the government can and should do more to ensure that every American has access to a well-paying job.
Many have been quick to label recent labor shortages as a result of increased unemployment benefits and stimulus checks. But $300 more in unemployment each week is not heavily affecting the labor market, bad jobs are.
During the pandemic all we heard was voiced appreciation and tweets for essential workers, but we need more to actually support the workers in our country. Ensuring every person is financially stable shouldn’t be treated as a burden for the wealthiest country in the world.
According to the Pew Research Center, average hourly earnings peaked more than 45 years ago when the $4.03-an-hour rate in 1973 had the same purchasing power that $23.68 would today. Yet, our current federal minimum wage remains at $7.25 and is in effect in 21 states.
So it’s not surprising that two-thirds of Americans favor a $15 minimum wage. Even more support a modest increase, but our labor system in America is broken. And it cannot be fixed without a major course of action in the form of economic reform, job-building legislation and a re-thinking of our current system.
Many businesses complain of increases of the minimum wage’s potential negative effect on their bottom line; however, a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2019, for example, found that the state’s wage increase to $15 an hour had no immediate discernible effect on job loss. In terms of job growth and expansion, the New York restaurant industry actually outperformed the rest of the U.S. after the 2019 wage increase—instead of hindering small businesses, it helped them excel.
If we look at our labor conditions of today, progressively exacerbated wealth inequalities are a result of the continued reliance on new technologies, globalization, lack of organizational support from workers and a minimum wage that’s far too low. But these issues don’t present an unsolvable situation—our leaders in government must take action now. Increasing the federal minimum wage to an actual survival wage, $15, is just the starting point. Among many other benefits, raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2024 would lift wages for 41.5 million Americans with an average raise of around 31%.
Additionally, a jobs guarantee program that provides a good job for anyone who wants one should be possible considering we already have one for formerly-incarcerated individuals. The government must play a role in countering job and wage losses due to outsourcing, automation and income inequalities. Just imagine how much could be done if we had a budget for the Department of Education or the Department of Labor remotely close to the Department of Defense’s budget. Even Martin Luther King Jr. as well as former President Franklin Roosevelt called for a jobs guarantee nearly 60 and 80 years ago, respectively.
Of course, by finally taxing the rich their fair share, we can begin to end our massive wealth disparities and put money in the hands of people who need it—something the majority of Americans support. We can start by increasing the long-term capital gains rate, closing carried interest loopholes and implementing an unavoidable wealth tax. But beyond these corrective steps, we need to take more active ones to cause any lasting effect.
If we want to learn anything from history, we can just take a look back at Roosevelt’s New Deal and its effectiveness at creating jobs for more that 8.5 million Americans and subsidizing hundreds of thousands of positions by sending money to states. It’s also extremely evident that we cannot survive without a dramatic shift of our economy to sustainability.
Taking no action would result in severe economic and lifestyle losses, but enacting programs like the Green New Deal would increase the number of livable jobs for people while ensuring jobs lost in the transition to clean energy are protected and supported with green jobs available in local communities where fossil fuels are a heavy employer. Legislation like the Green New Deal will be vital for solving issues of wealth inequality and the climate crisis.
Additionally, we should be using our advances in technology and automation to help people, not kick them on the street. Ideally, if production is increasing because of this technology, shouldn’t we be enjoying shorter work weeks and using technology to make things easier on people? Not just so billionaires can hoard their fortunes.
Finally, we need to fund schools and pipeline programs that support technical and trade schools for our workers. You should not have to go to college to earn a living wage, we need to increase the ability and reach of pipelines to trade and technical schools of all kinds because all work is valuable.
Beyond government action, it’s on us as workers and voters to hold our workplaces accountable and ensure that they’re doing their job too: to protect and provide workers with jobs that don’t consume our lives. Earning a living wage and providing a good job for everyone who wants to work in America is not some radical idea. We need to value human lives above profit—at all costs.
Written by: The Editorial Board