The fight for a living wage must go on

Marge Robinson

Some have mulled whether the outcome of the recent presidential election would end the fight for a fair economy for all.

If anything, the election serves as an exclamation point to the concept that we must do a better job at closing the gap between the haves and the have-nots, ensuring that as the country’s recession ebbs, the tide is indeed lifting all boats.

Consider this: At both ends of the spectrum, among voters who supported President-elect Donald Trump as well as those who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries, the economy ranked among the top issues.

Let’s be clear: While President Obama certainly should be lauded for pulling the country out of the worst recession since the 1930s and there have been accompanying steady job gains during his tenure, what hasn’t kept pace is a living wage for workers.

In Michigan, it’s extremely profound as manufacturing jobs have decreased, while fast food and retail jobs are the fastest-growing. Sadly, those categories are also among the lowest paid.

The median pay for fast food workers nationwide stands at just more than $9 an hour, or about $18,700 a year. That’s roughly $4,500 lower than the poverty level for a family of four, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The outlook is equally bleak for those who take care of our children and our seniors — an average pay around $14,000 annually. The people who take care of our most vulnerable — nursing home and childcare workers — can’t afford to take care of their own families.

Because of depressed pay, many low-wage workers have to rely on public assistance. That means taxpayers are essentially bailing out major corporations; in Michigan the cost is approximately $232 million in subsidies.

Now, more than ever, it’s important that we continue the fight to ensure that people earn enough to take care of their families. The economy will never grow significantly as long as people’s paychecks are so low.

When workers have more money in their pockets, they can contribute to local businesses. The whole economy depends on workers earning a living wage.

So the fight for an economy that works for everyone is far from over. If anything, this election showed us that much of the public is crying out for pay equity, and a clear path to finding that balance is to pay a living wage.

Marge Robinson, R.N., is president of SEIU Healthcare Michigan.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.