Friday, August 29, 2014
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The bottom line: America is not paying its workers enough to get by

Working Americans can't make ends meet on $8-9 an hour.

The bottom line: America is not paying its workers enough to get by

In the great minds (not really) think alike department, I wrote about the issue of income inequality today and so did the New York Times.

I wrote about the fast-food worker movement coming (finally) to Philly:

FOR the past two years, Sean Caldwell, of Mount Airy, has been struggling to support himself and raise his children on his $8-an-hour part-time salary on the maintenance crew at McDonald's at Broad and Allegheny, in North Philly.

It just hasn't been nearly enough - so he scrounges for whatever else he can.

Caldwell, 35, started a neighborhood lawn-mowing business and takes other odd jobs, such as cleaning out garages, but when he did his 2013 taxes he still saw that he'd made only $9,000. To bridge the gap, Caldwell, like many workers in the fast-food industry, received food stamps and other taxpayer-funded benefits, such as Medicaid.

This December, Caldwell saw a cable-TV news report about workers from McDonald's and other fast-food restaurants in New York City staging a one-day strike. "I was excited - I wanted to see where this thing could go, if it could gain traction," he said. "I said, 'I sure hope it comes to my city!' "

This week, Caldwell gets his wish. For the past month, scores of fast-food workers and labor organizers have been working behind the scenes to finally bring the national fast-food-workers movement - which seeks a raise to $15 an hour and the right to unionize - to Philadelphia. It's tentatively scheduled to kick off tomorrow with a job action outside McDonald's on Broad Street near Girard Avenue.

The Times went to Chattanooga and what do you know -- they found the same darned thing:

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — At 7 in the morning, they are already lined up — poultry plant workers, housekeepers, discount store clerks — to ask for help paying their heating bills or feeding their families.

And once Metropolitan Ministries opens at 8 a.m., these workers fill the charity’s 40 chairs, with a bawling infant adding to the commotion. From pockets and handbags they pull out utility bills or rent statements and hand them over to caseworkers, who often write checks — $80, $110, $150 — to patch over gaps in meeting this month’s expenses or filling the gas tank to get to work.

Just off her 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift, Erika McCurdy needed help last month with her electricity and heating bill, which jumped to $280 in January from the usual $120 — a result of one of the coldest winters in memory. A nurse’s aide at an assisted living facility, Ms. McCurdy said there were many weeks when she couldn’t make ends meet raising her 19-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.

“There’s just no way, making $9 an hour as a single parent with two children, that I can live without assistance,” said Ms. McCurdy, 40, a strong-voiced, solidly built Chattanooga native.

This has been years in the making, and yet we didn't see it coming. America has been shedding manufacturing employment and adding these low-wage service jobs for several decades, but now we've reached a tipping point where these jobs that pay $8 pr $9 an hour with uncertain, limited hours are the only viable option for millions of people.

Why did manufacturing jobs pay well, and why did America have a stable and prosperous middle class for a couple of generations after World War II? There's no one answer, but part of the reason is that the workers fought for their rights. It's taking a while...but history is repeating.

Blogger's note: Apologies for today's light posting -- working on a deadline story for tomorrow.

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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