Friday, August 29, 2008

Happy Labor Day - Working Poor Deserve Better

The first Monday of September is Labor Day, an annual national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

A quick look at wages and costs . . . then and now. In 1914 the Ford Motor Company raised its basic wage from $2.40 for a nine hour day to $5 for an eight hour day. A worker could buy a box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes for ten cents; a Coca-Cola was five cents, and a Hershey bar was two cents. In 1914, a Texaco service station's gas price was 14.5 cents per gallon.

When the first national federal minimum wage went into effect in 1938, the hourly rate was 25 cents an hour.

Today minimum wage workers earn $6.55 an hour or $52.40 for an eight hour day, before taxes. This means they take home about $40 for a full day's work. A box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes goes for $4.00. A Coke is $1.00. A Hershey bar, 50 cents. And a gallon of gas at Texaco today is $3.70.

What does this mean for workers today? Many of the minimum wage workers are "working poor." Officially, in the United States, the working poor are defined as individuals who spent at least 27 weeks in the labor force working or looking for work, but whose incomes fell below the official poverty level. This doesn't include the unemployed. Often, those defined as working poor have negative net worth and lack the ability to escape personal and economic contingencies.

The average poverty threshold for a family of four in 2000 was $17,603 a year. The threshold was $35,060 for a family of nine or more persons, and $8,259 for an unrelated individual aged 65 or older, according to figures from the last census in 2000. In 2003, Business Week reported that 25% of the U.S. workforce earned subpoverty pay. These are our minimum wage workers.

As you celebrate Labor Day this weekend, thank the workers who make our country run. Remember that many of them are working long, hard hours, for wages that won't even cover their costs.

And hold our leaders and corporations responsible for creating a living wage for our workers, so they can enjoy a Hershey bar without breaking the bank.

A big thank you and happy Labor Day to all our workers!