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Ear to the Ground

The New York Times Speaks in Defense of Labor

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Posted on Sep 1, 2014

Photo by DonkeyHotey (CC BY 2.0)

On the eve of Labor Day, the editors of The New York Times called for a federal “full-employment agenda that regards labor, not corporations, as the center of the economy.”

Wages, salaries, and the number and quality of jobs remain in a state of neglect five years into a recovery that has taken spectacular care of corporations. As a share of the economy, for example, after-tax profits for corporations in 2013 were as large as they ever have been, while the share of compensation for labor dropped to its lowest point since 1948.

“Worse,” the editors continue, “the recent upturn in growth, even if sustained, will not necessarily lead to markedly improved living standards for most workers. That’s because the economy’s lopsidedness is not mainly the result of market forces, but of the lack of policies to ensure broader prosperity. The imbalance will not change without labor and economic reforms.”

The paper points to new research from the Economic Policy Institute that reveals hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, fell for nearly everyone between the first half of 2013 and the first half of 2014. The exceptions include a small gain for the bottom 10 percent of earners—a difference attributed to increases in the minimum wage in 13 states.

Though wage increases would be only a first step, the paper calls those numbers “clear evidence that raising the federal minimum wage … would have a powerful effect.” The increase from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 backed by President Obama would put an extra $35 billion in the pockets of workers over a phase-in period of three years.

Altogether, the Times’ editorial board called for unionization to grant better wages and benefits and the right to organize; stronger enforcement of labor laws and antitrust laws to guard against wage theft (white collar software engineers were deprived of roughly $3 billion this year); and a “systematic review of government contracts with the private sector and a willingness to end those that” outsource jobs, waste money and perform their services poorly.

The correct classification of employees who are miscategorized as independent contractors, “a tactic that employers use to deny pay and benefits that would otherwise be due,” is needed as well, they wrote.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly

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