Monday, October 24, 2005
Here's how the real value of the minimum wage has worked out over the last half-century in the US:
Since the mid-1970s, it has risen twice only: once under Bush senior and once under Clinton. It's present real value is lower than it was in 1955. As you can see on this graph, average minimum wage earnings are well below the poverty level, and its getting worse. Now, cynically you might say that at least the US government is working so that these people can get cheap t-shirts, but if New Orleans is any guide, they may as well be considered part of the Third World labour market as well. There are sweatshops in the US as well, you know.
Real household income has been falling dramatically since 2000, naturally with the heaviest burden of cuts being borne by 'minorities'. This is partly because of recession and partly because Bills supported by the present administration have sought to give employers the right to force workers into longer hours for less money. This is actually a long-term trend in the US: average income slumped pretty badly from 1979 for the bottom 20% of workers, picking up only at the tail end of the 1990s, when the dot.com bubble was at its peak and the unions started to flex their muscles. They didn't get it for nothing either - American families work much longer hours on average than they did in 1975.
You'll die much younger for your poverty too, especially if you're in Harlem. Infant mortality in the US has been rising (it is now slightly higher than Cuba, and about equal with Malaysia which has one-quarter the average income of the US), particularly among the poor (parts of America are as poor as the Third World, while America is more unequal than Vietnam, Egypt and Albania), and particularly among African-Americans (poverty is doing Bill Bennett's work for him). This is despite the fact that the US has the most expensive healthcare system in the world. The tax burden that pays for this expensive, privatised failure has increasingly shifted from the wealthy to the poor, but it is the poor who die younger, partly due to lack of access to the healthcare system and partly due to sheer impoverishment, along with increased environmental and occupational hazards that go with it.
Yet, poverty must be, as K-Punk once suggested, ethnicised: it can't be treated by apologists for the system as something internal to capitalism. Hence, it is something that happens to a violent, criminal 'underclass', "welfarised blacks", whom God must clean out with a devastating hurricane and flood - and they shall never return to darken the rich man's doorstep unless to work on reduced wages under suspended safety regulations building condominiums for rich hipsters. The poor, as per usual, are pushed to the bottom of every available pile and then blamed for being there. If they aren't the wrong skin-colour, they're welfare queens. If they aren't that, they're single mothers, sluts who should be waitressing. If not that, they're lazy slobs with no drive. If you're not rich like everyone else is, you're a whiner.
Some say this is Rome before the fall.