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Gary L. Flowers, Black Leadership Forum
Published: 22 October 2010

"How would you like to be making $200,000 a year today after 25 years on the job? Well, if you started with the pay of an average worker 25 years ago that is what you would be making today—if you got the same kind of raises that the CEO's of American companies got for the post 25 years." Jack Rasmus


The American ethos holds that working people should have the same basic options for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as those of wealthy people.  Regrettably, those who make minimum wage and those who make maximum wage are worlds apart.

In 1965, CEO's in major companies earned 24 times more than an average worker.  In 1978, the ratio of CEO to worker compensation increased to 35 times more for the CEOs.  By 1989, CEOs made 71 times more than their average employee.  If you are already upset, it gets worse.  In 2000, the ratio in favor of CEOs went to 300 to 1.  In 2005, CEOs "only" made 262 times the average worker.

The concept of a minimum wage began in Australia and New Zealand in the 1890's.  By 1912, the State of Massachusetts enacted a minimum wage for women and children.  The first federal minimum wage in the United States of America was the Fair Labor Standards Act, enacted in 1938, with a .25 cent per hour wage and a maximum 44-hour worker week for laborers.

Since then, the issue of minimum wage (and now livable wage) has been hotly debated.  The idea that anyone would argue against the minimum wage baffles me.  Rather, the issue for most American workers is whether the wage they earn can pay the bills.  Unfortunately, for most, the answer is no.

Consequently, the "living wage movement" was launched in 1994 by ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now).  While the national minimum wage was $4.25 per hour, the City of Baltimore increased pay for city workers to $6.10 per hour.  Following the example of Baltimore, many cities across the nation saw the development of living wage coalitions.  In fact, more than 140 American cities have adopted living wage laws.

Simply put, if the prevailing minimum wage does not afford a worker to pay minimum wages than wages should be increased to pay living costs in each city.  It does not take an economist to figure out a fix to the issue.

Violations to minimum wage rates are most common in the apparel and textile manufacturing industries.  Violation rates were substantially lower in residential construction, social assistance and education, and home health care.

Critics of the living wage say that the idea sounds better than its practical effect by displacing jobs, discouraging hiring, and not positively affecting the quality of life for workers.  Really?

Reality retorts that when workers make a living wage the entire economy benefits.

If for no other reason, America should pay workers a livable wage pursuant to our American creed of providing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


Gary L. Flowers is the Director & CEO of Black Leadership Forum, Inc.

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