Multiple choice test for Labor Day

We’re working more and often getting paid less, which makes Labor Day this year:

(a) more important

(b) more ironic

(c) a great day to shop the sales.

To help figure out the right answer, here’s a round-up of six stories about work life in the United States.

Working more? Yes, reports Vox, with one-sixth of full-time workers surveyed telling the Gallup poll that they work more than 60 hours weekly. Another fifth report working 50 to 59 hours per week. Most of those reporting overtime are salaried workers, which means they don’t get paid for the overtime.

Wage theft is still an issue for hourly workers, especially in regard to overtime, according to an August 31 New York Times story. The story reports on a “flood” of recent cases against employers for failure to pay required overtime rates, as well as just plain shorting workers’ paychecks. That’s right — some employers look at the clocked hours and then pay for less than the amount on the time clock. Unless workers check every day’s time record against the hours on their paycheck, they might not even notice that they are being shorted one or three or five hours pay in a pay period.

The NYT article says that the federal Labor Department’s wage and hour division “uncovered nearly $1 billion in illegally unpaid wages since 2010,” with immigrants making up a high proportion of the underpaid workers. Read the whole story for reports on specific cases involving McDonald’s, WalMart, FedEx and more.

Restaurant workers make up nine percent of the private-sector U.S. workforce, according to a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute (h/t to Mother Jones for reporting on it) — 5.5 million women and 5.1 million men. Their median hourly wage, including tips, is about $10 per hour. We’ve all heard the stories about well-tipped employees who make tons of money — that’s not the norm. EPI reports: “More than two in five restaurant workers, or 43.1 percent, live below twice the poverty line—more than twice the 19.9 percent share outside the restaurant industry.” Check out the full EPI report for more.

Temp workers make up two percent of the nation’s workforce, a record 2.87 million, according to the New York Times. Temp workers get less pay than permanent workers for the same work, and also less training, including safety training, and have a higher rate of on-the-job injury. A recent report from the National Employment Law Project concludes that temp work is “one part of a larger story about the declining middle class in our country.”

Health care workers make up another growing sector, with the Star Tribune reporting that, “The new low-wage job in Minnesota is in health care.” Lots of the new jobs are personal care assistants and home health aides, where wages start at $9 or $10 an hour. As the population ages, with more people needing health care assistance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a million new home health aide and personal care assistant jobs by 2022. According to the Strib article:

“A wholesale restructuring of the Medicare and Medicaid payment systems — to somehow divert more income to low-wage but crucial caregivers — could change the economics of the industry, [MIT economist Paul] Osterman said. But that would be a major policy shift. In Minnesota, only 4.3 percent of all federal dollars for medical care goes toward home health care, while 35 percent goes to hospitals and 25.4 percent goes to doctors and outpatient clinics.

“More than 190,000 Minnesotans work in low-wage health care jobs. That workforce is growing and is disproportionately made up of immigrants, women and people of color.”

Business profits trump increased wages across the economy, says the New York Times in its Labor Day editorial:

“In 2013, after-tax corporate profits as a share of the economy tied with their highest level on record (in 1965), while labor compensation as a share of the economy hit its lowest point since 1948. Wage growth since 1979 has not kept pace with productivity growth, resulting in falling or flat wages for most workers and big gains for corporate coffers, shareholders, executives and others at the top of the income ladder.”

By now, you’ve probably figured out that my answer to the Labor Day multiple choice quiz is that Labor Day 2014 is both (a) important and (b) ironic, as the national agenda gives lip service to workers while failing to protect and pay them.I wholeheartedly agree with the New York Times editorial conclusion that what we need now is “a full-employment agenda that regards labor, not corporations, as the center of the economy — a change that would be a reversal of the priorities of the last 35 years.” Of course, if you think that Labor Day is mainly about (c) shopping the sales, you have plenty of company



Recent, related stories from News Day:


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2 responses to “Multiple choice test for Labor Day

  1. Pingback: Reason: Work more, pay less? | What Is Adam Hill?

  2. Pingback: Is it true that we work more and get paid less? | What Is Adam Hill?

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