A question of fairness – the living wage

Sasha Abramsky

A question of fairness

If politicians truly care about the working class, they should insist that workers be paid a ‘living wage’

May 7, 2008 9:00 PM

Should we or shouldn’t we declare a “gas tax holiday”? That’s the question du jour on the presidential campaign trail as gas prices soar further into record high territory.

For two reasons, the debate largely misses the point.

Firstly, all the indications are that higher gas prices are here to stay.

 

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Secondly, the brunt of the higher gasoline prices is falling disproportionately on the working poor – on the people who have no choice but to drive long distances to work, and whose already-meagre budgets are being shredded by soaring energy prices.

 

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The purchasing power of the minimum wage remains far from what it was 30 or 40 years ago. Similarly, the purchasing power of wages floating just above the minimum wage also remains constricted. In the short-run, a better way to counter rising gas prices’ erosion of living standards for the poor would be to inflation-index the minimum wage.

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Ten dollars an hour is hardly a princely sum, but for the 30% of American workers whom economists estimate currently earn less than this, it represents a whole heap of change.

Despite scare-rhetoric put out by opponents of the living wage, the cities that have adopted such laws have not seen businesses fleeing, nor have they seen bankruptcies and unemployment rising at levels vastly different to those of the rest of the country. Instead they have seen trickle-up effects, with people at the low end of the economy earning more and spending more in local businesses as a result.

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Committing to a living wage would actually make a real difference in the lives of America’s working poor.

 

More from comment_is_free Guardian.co.uk: http://urlet.com/backup.attempt

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