By Jeff Spencer
The Coronavirus pandemic is highlighting the flaws in our economic system. Last week a record 3.3 million people filed for unemployment and this week the numbers doubled to 6.6 million.
In January, Fox Business reported that 37 percent of Americans could not afford a $1,000 emergency expense. Now many of these workers are facing weeks or even months without a paycheck. This puts in stark relief the reason Congress passed the $2 trillion CARES Act aimed, among other things, at extending and bolstering unemployment assistance.
Why are so many workers, in the richest country in the history of the world, unable to survive past one week? The answer to this question is a result of policies that the Republican Party has advocated for over the past three decades.
One reason Americans are unable is simple; They are not paid enough. The Pew Research Center found that real wages for Americans have barely moved in forty years. And it’s not from Democrat’s lack of trying.
Democratic lawmakers are responsible for 20 of the 22 federal minimum wage increases since 1938 according to statistics from the U.S. Department of labor. The last increase was in 2009.
In 2019, Democrats passed the Raise the Wage Act through the House with only three Republican votes. The bill would have raised the minimum wage to $15 per hour, a wage supported by two-thirds of Americans according to a Pew Research Center analysis. The Republican controlled Senate never took up the bill.
The federal government not raising the minimum wage is part of the problem, but another part is a result of declining union membership. CBS News reported that union membership hit a record low in 2018. Republicans are to blame here, too.
Much of this decline is a result of right-to-work laws enacted by Republican legislatures. These laws allow workers to avoid paying union dues, while still benefiting from employment contracts negotiated by union representatives.
A Bloomberg Law Review Article published on May 16, 2019 highlights the effects of right-to-work laws on union membership:
”In the 27 right-to-work states, union members accounted for 6.5% of the workforce in 2018. In the 23 non-right-to-work states and the District of Columbia, the membership rate in 2018 was more than twice as high: 13.9%.”
This reduction in union membership has hurt worker’s pocketbooks. An article by Vox, highlighted multiple economic studies which show how right-to-work laws lead to depressed wages for workers. The article goes on to state the following:
“In truth, it shouldn’t be a surprise that anti-union laws would hurt middle-class families. According to economists, the decline of labor unions is largely responsible for the growing income inequality in the United States.”
Jeff Spencer is vice chair of the Collier County Democratic Party