By Mark DelloRusso, President, SEIU Local 888
Do you have a funny feeling that your paycheck isn't stretching as far these days? Well, first, you're right. And second, you're not alone.
Labor Day is an occasion for celebrating working people in this country. But sadly, Massachusetts workers are working harder, are more productive and are making their corporations record profits, yet aren't making a dime more. In fact, we're all making less. According to a just-released report from Sentier Research, median household income is down more than 4 percent since the recession ended. Add that to what we lost during the recession itself, and we're all making 6.1 percent less than we were in 2007.
When I say "we," I mean basically everyone. Young and middle-aged workers. African Americans, whites and Latinos. People at all levels of educational attainment. Especially hard-hit are families in which someone has been unemployed, in part because when they get back to work, they're not making as much. One study indicates that jobs in categories that tend to pay low wages account for about six in ten of the new jobs added during the economic recovery. Five of the six fastest-growing jobs are in classifications that pay lower-than-average wages.
There are a few people doing better than they were in 2007. CEOs got a 16 percent raise last year alone, according to the consulting firm Equilar. It seems million-dollar paychecks don't go as far as they used to either. Big business is booming again and reporting record profits, but the gap between them and us is larger than ever because prosperity is not being shared broadly—it’s being funneled to the top.
It doesn't have to be this way. Let's make some changes.
Congress and the president can and should raise the minimum wage, now. It has been more than four years since the last increase to $7.25 an hour. Working 40 hours a week at the current minimum wage leaves a family of four $7,000 short of the poverty line. No matter who you are, where you're from or what job you do, in this country everyone who works hard should be able to have a decent life.
And while we wait for Congress and the president to act, workers can continue to join together to raise their collective voices and demand that they share in the prosperity they create. You've seen it over the past several weeks in cities across the country including Boston, where fast food and retail workers are demanding a higher wage floor. Members of the Service Employees International Union proudly support these workers as well as thousands of others who have stood up this summer: Walmart workers, airport workers, health care workers, adjunct professors and security officers who are joining together for better pay and better communities through a union. All of these workers are taking action out of the belief that we can and must create a nation in which everyone can fully participate in this country.
Maybe your wages have been flat, but you're doing better than the minimum, so you wonder what's in it for you if fast food workers and others are able to win an increase in their pay. That's a fair question. Here is how I have answered it when people asked me lately.
By putting more money into the pockets of workers in fast-growing low-wage jobs, we can get our economy moving again and strengthen working families. A solid economy depends on businesses that pay enough for workers to afford the basics. When they don't, the entire economy suffers—including many small businesses here in Massachusetts.
So this Labor Day, I hope that you are able to relax and enjoy some time with friends or family or, if you're on the clock, that it's at least a quiet day. Then, starting tomorrow, let's join together to fight for changes that will make your family and all Americans a little more prosperous come next Labor Day.
Mark DelloRusso is President of SEIU Local 888 which unites more than 8,000 public service, higher education and not-for-profit workers in Massachusetts for the good jobs and quality services our communities need. Learn more at: www.seiu888.org.