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Black Workers Stuck in Poverty Wages

By Freddie Allen NNPA Washington Correspondent | 6/20/2014, 9:53 a.m.
As fast food and retail workers continue to march for higher wages, a new study by the Economic Policy Institute ...
In this file photo U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-5th) of Georgia last year speaks to fast food workers and supporters during a one day protest in downtown Atlanta about raising the wages of fast food workers to $15 an hour. There were over 100 such rallies across the U.S. (AP)

Mishel pointed to a Clinton-era tax break for performance pay that contributed to the expansion of high wages in financial sector and the erosion of unionization to explain the growth in the wage gap.

Mishel said,  “No deity created that. That was created by policymakers. It’s not driven by innovators, it’s not Steve Jobs.”

Elise Gould, director of health policy research for EPI, said that 70 percent of income comes from wages, wage-based equity or transfers related to work and that’s why wages have are critical in reducing poverty.

“We need to use all the levers we have at our disposal. We need to look at [Temporary Assistance For Needy Families], we need to look at food stamps, we need to look at unemployment insurance,” said Gould. “We need to strengthen the social safety net and we have seen over the last 30 or 40 years that the social net has made progress in reducing poverty.”

Gould said that if we don’t try to close some of these gaps, we’re failing American society.

“If we don’t do anything to change where these rungs are in wage distribution, if we don’t change what this income distribution looks like, some people are always going to be at the bottom and we know those low rungs are not a great place to be,” said Gould.

During a keynote speech at the launch of the “Raising America’s Pay” initiative, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said that we’re making progress toward economic progress, but we still have a long way to go.

“Everywhere I go across this country people are working harder and falling farther behind,” said Perez. “Opportunity has become more and more elusive for more and more working families.”

He recalled that the basic bargain was that if you work hard and take responsibility for yourself and for your family, you’ll have a chance to punch your ticket to the middle class, that has always defined America, is being called into question for millions of workers and their families.

“Worker productivity has increased about 90 percent since 1979. Wages for production and non-supervisory workers have barely budged,” said Perez. “The workers are receiving a smaller slice of the pie that they helped bake.”

Noting the increase of women in the labor force, Perez said that the nature of work is evolving and we need to make sure that we are working hard to reflect the fact that our workplace has changed.

“We’re in the ‘Modern Family’ universe but we’ve got public policy that is more like ‘Leave it to Beaver’ [an old TV show] and we need to change that,” said Perez. “You shouldn’t have to make a choice between the family you love and the job that you need.”

Perez continued: “I know you ought to make sure that you make enough money to put food on the table, but I think it’s equally important that you’re at home to eat that meal with your family, and too many people I know are not able to do that.”