Monday, September 14, 2015

ON LABOR DAY - $15 Minimum Wage

"How does the fight for $15 affect the labor market?" PBS NewsHour 9/7/2015


SUMMARY:  Three years since a small group of fast-food workers began protesting in demand of higher pay and better conditions, a minimum wage of $15 an hour is becoming a reality for many across the country.  Jeffrey Brown gets two perspectives from Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  It was just three years ago when more than 100 fast food workers in New York City first began walking off the job to demand higher wages and better working conditions.  Now a $15-an-hour minimum wage is becoming a reality for many low-wage workers across the country.

Jeffrey Brown has our Labor Day look.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  This summer has been a big one for the movement.  Los Angeles officials agreed to raise the minimum wage from $9 an hour to $15.  Mayors of eight other cities near San Francisco, including San Jose, are expected to soon endorse a similar plan.  And New York State is moving toward a $15-an-hour wage for all fast food workers; $15 has already been signed into law in other cities, including Seattle, with wages hiked gradually, depending on the city, between 2017 and 2021.

We look at the movement’s growing success and questions about its impact.

Robert Reich is former secretary of labor and now professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley.  He led a workers walkout at a McDonald’s in April.  His new book is called “Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few.”  And Michael Strain is an economist who studies labor market and wages.  He’s a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

And I want to welcome both of you.

Robert Reich, let me start with you.

Overview first.  Is it fair to see this movement as taking real hold and why do you think it has picked up so much momentum?

ROBERT REICH, Former U.S. Labor Secretary:  Jeff, I do think that it is taking hold.

I think it’s picked up momentum because, for one thing, the minimum wage in real terms, adjusted for inflation, keeps on dropping.  If we had the same minimum wage we had as in 1968, adjusted for inflation, it would be over $10 today.

I think a lot of people who are middle class, lower middle class and poor are just saying, look, this is just simply unfair.  And, finally, you have got a lot of middle class who are people are saying, we’re paying more and more taxes to keep working people out of poverty, which is effectively a subsidy to all of these low-wage employers.  And that’s not fair either.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Michael Strain, how do you assess the strength of the movement and what is behind it?

MICHAEL STRAIN, American Enterprise Institute:  Well, I think there’s no question that the movement is strong and seems to be growing stronger and, by their metrics of success, they have racked up some real victories.

I think if we raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour or similar levels in these cities, it will create winners, it will create losers.  In my judgment, there are going to be more losers than winners.  I think it’s a very risky strategy.  But I certainly understand what’s motivating these workers and these organizers, and I admire the goal, which is to help the working poor and working class Americans.

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