Equality. Opportunity. Fairness. Dignity. If you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to live a decent life where your kids will be better off than you. That’s the American Dream.
Over the last 40 years, that dream has become a nightmare for so many working women and men. Despite having their nose to the grindstone, their buying power has dwindled.
The economic collapse in 2008 made things even worse for working Americans. Most of the big banks, Wall Street and real estate speculators, politicians and economists blamed everybody but big banks, Wall Street and real estate speculators, politicians and economists for this catastrophic situation.
This vacuum led to the Occupy Movement and the 99 Percent Movement. More and more people got involved and called for change. Fast food workers, Walmart workers and increasingly workers of all types have joined the call for higher wages, more hours, paid sick days and equal pay for equal work.
The call for reduced inequality is sparked by the reality that the inequality is so extreme. Recently numbers were announced that CEOs on average make 373 times more than the average workers in their companies. And Wall Street speculators are making a killing in the market. But wages for working people are flat at best.
When millionaires become multimillionaires, it hardly helps economic growth. What helps economic growth is consumer spending. When working people who have made $9.50 an hour get paid $11.50 an hour, that is real money, thousands of dollars a year that each of these workers will spend in their communities – at the grocery store, maybe even a restaurant now and then, getting a pair of pants and shoes for kids going back to school.
The claims from some – like Max Nelsen and Doug Willis in their July 12 News Tribune Viewpoint – that minimum wage increases don’t help the economy, are absurd. Which is better for economic growth: a millionaire with a million more dollars in his pocket or 1,000 workers with $1,000 more dollars in their pockets?
Nelsen’s and Willis’ claims would be laughable if they were just getting a column printed in the paper. But right-wing economists like this have been hired by the City of Tacoma as “advisers.”
Most families that have been able to keep their heads above water in the last 30 years have done so by doing one of two things or both: They have doubled down and worked more hours by taking a second or third job, or they have gone deeper and deeper into debt with credit cards and predatory and home equity loans.
Neither path is sustainable or a solution to the problem. The problem is a broken and increasingly unfair and inequitable system that expects people to work harder for less.
Fewer and fewer people are willing to accept this. More people are standing up and demanding change. Together, we can get higher minimum wages, equal pay for women, paid sick days and other improvements so that working people in Tacoma, Washington state and the nation can have the opportunity to live a decent life, so that they’ll have at least a reasonable hope that their kids may become better off than they are instead of burdened by huge college debt, living in the basement and working at a dead-end job with very little hope for change.
We can do better, and we must do better.
Sarah Cherin is the political and public policy director with UFCW 21, the state’s largest private sector union with more than 45,000 members working in grocery stores, retail, health care and other industries.