It’s good to see what appears to be a renewed commitment to the topic of income inequality throughout this nation, including a passionate vow by newly elected Gov. Bill DeBlasio in New York City.
President Barack Obama and Pope Francis also weighed in on the topic. The president said ” . . . a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility” is “the defining challenge of our time.” In a forceful emphasis, the pope said income inequality is leading to a “new tyranny” and criticized worldwide faith in “trickle-down” economics, claiming such a belief “expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.”
It’s heartening to know so many leaders – president, pope and many in the U.S. Congress – are bringing the income-gap to the forefront of pressing issues that must be resolved. For a welcome change, so many seem to be on the same page. Polls of the American people also show a deep concern for inequality, with all polls indicating a majority (as many as 70 percent in some polls) favoring an immediate raise in the national minimum wage.
Let us hope big advances toward closing the income-equality gap occur in this new year, 2014. Statistics glaringly indicate just how long overdue is the problem of lopsided incomes. All people should care deeply about this issue because in one way or another it affects all of us. For example, many people working hard in substandard, low-wage jobs simply do not make enough money even to cover such basic necessities as rent, food, utilities, gasoline – not to mention car-repair bills or medical emergencies. As a result, many of those people must depend upon forms of social-help programs funded by the taxpayers.
It’s such good news to hear repeatedly the national economy is recovering from the abysmal recession that began in 2008. Every day we’re told the stock market has scored record highs, which is good, indeed. But it’s discouraging those gains are not realized by the overwhelming numbers of the American middle class, the working class and the working poor. Stock-market gains benefit mainly the upper 1 percent. Corporations whose profits are soaring are generally not plowing those gains into job-creation. In other words, benefits are rarely if ever “trickling down” in the form of rewarding jobs and livable wages.
That is what is most crucial in solving the income-inequality gap: decent jobs and livable wages. It’s both absurd and cruel to proclaim, as some grinches do, that someone can make it on the minimum wage in today’s world. The current federal minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, is $7.25 an hour for nonexempt employees. Adjusted for inflation, that wage is equivalent to the minimum wage of the 1960s. State by state, the minimum wage varies. In Minnesota, it is $6.15 for large employers and $5.25 an hour for small employers. That’s because there are categories of exemptions from the federal minimum wage for some kinds of workers, such as workers with disabilities, full-time students and workers under age 20. Fortunately, most enlightened, progressive Minnesota employers pay a wage well above those minimum amounts.
Lessening the income gap so all workers enjoy a good wage is not an easy challenge, especially when people opposed will continue to call wage-boosting efforts “class warfare,” an ironic accusation if ever there was one. However, there is hope as more and more people pressure their elected leaders to vote for an increase (at least $10) in minimum wages. That will be a good start. Such an increase is so long-overdue the unjust delay ought to be considered a national disgrace.
So let’s make 2014 a truly Happy New Year for all Americans. Let’s tell our legislators to do the right thing: Vote for a substantial mininum-wage increase.