On October 25th, 2016, CPEG Member Joe Persky testified before the Cook County (Illinois) board about the potential effects of raising the county minimum wage. Subsequent to testimony provided by CPEG and many other groups, the county board voted to raise the minimum wage from $8.25 to $10 per hour on July 1, 2017. It will then rise by $1 per year until reaching $13 an hour in 2020! This is a major victory for low-wage workers in Chicago and all of Cook County.
As noted by Dr. Persky in his testimony, “Empirical evidence gathered throughout the country as well as here in Illinois supports the proposition that raising minimum wages increases incomes of low wage workers and their households without reducing employment. Cook County owes its low wage workers a serious increase in their minimum wages.”
Download Dr. Persky’s Expanded Testimony (.pdf) before the board.
In its September 2014 Jobs Report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics once again documented the persistent and pernicious effects of the Lesser Depression, which began to take shape when financial services firm Lehman Brothers collapsed and filed for bankruptcy in September 2008.
Exactly six years on, labor force participation continues to decrease, dropping to 62.7 percent last month, the lowest level recorded since 1978. Nonetheless, the BLS boasts the official unemployment rate declined from 6.1 percent in August to last month’s 5.9 percent, with employment increasing by 248,000 jobs. Retail trade added 35,300 jobs; health care brought on 23,000, with 7,000 Americans going into home health care services; state governments added 22,000 jobs; and, notching another monthly increase, leisure and hospitality added another 33,000 jobs. Curiously, performing arts and spectator sports showed up with 7,200 jobs. However, when it comes to jobs that produce tradable goods, the paltry numbers more clearly illustrate the US economy’s weaknesses. For instance, last month, job losses were noted in computer and electronic products, semiconductors and electronic components, paper and paper products. Overall, manufacturing only added 4,000 jobs across the country. In September 2014, just as it has since the onset of the Lesser Depression, the US economy remained torpid.
In the late 1960s I was teaching at a community college in upstate NY and, among the books I assigned to my students, was Betty Freidan’s “The Feminine Mystique.” It usually generated interesting discussions, perhaps the most interesting of which was the gender gap in the response to the question I would ask about expectations for the household division of labor (including child care and other housework) in their future lives. The young women turned out to be better predictors of where the future was going than the young men.
Maybe the young men were thinking about 1900 when 1 in 5 women in the US – and only 1 in 20 married women – were in the wage labor force. Housework, “women’s work” was demanding and time consuming; the average household contained almost 5 people and almost 20% had more than 7 members. Or maybe the young men were just reflecting the reality that, in the 1960s, their mothers were doing 6 hours of housework labor for every 1 expended by fathers. In contrast, perhaps the young women were envisioning a society – like today’s US – when 3 of every 5 women, both overall and for married, work for wages. And they understood that human labor time is not indefinitely expandable.
The BLS labor market bulletin for July reports total non-farm employment increased by 162,000 jobs and the unemployment rate inched down to 7.4 percent (down 0.2 percentage points from 7.6% in June). A closer look at the fine print of the gross statistics reveals that structural problems remain.
The report includes a downward revision of 26,000 from the previously reported May (175,000) and June (195,000) jobs’ totals. Thus the reported 162,000 jobs gain is in fact 13,000 below a 3 month average of 175,000.
Part of the drop in unemployment is accounted for by drop outs from the labor market (the so-called discouraged workers). The labor force participation rate declined 0.1% (from 63.5 to 63.4%), while the portion of the population employed remained at 58.7%. So despite the decline in the unemployment rate the number of workers unable to find work increased and no new jobs were created relative to the size of the working age population.
On April 24th two groups of young people met up on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, and it wasn’t for the shopping. One group was striking retail and fast food workers who had walked off the job to protest low wages and demand a $15 minimum wage for downtown workers. The other group was students protesting Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s school closings. Many of the striking workers were only a few years older than the students. Inequitable education policies like those of the Chicago Public Schools fall most heavily on low-income communities. The experience of dictates from above disrupting neighborhoods—closing schools, firing school staff, reducing education to performance on high stakes testing–with no voice from those affected doesn’t produce schools encourage low-income students to assert themselves and demand a better life for themselves and their families. Last Wednesday the youth of Chicago taught us what we should already know, the economy is not working for most people in the U.S.