A noxious combination of falling wages, income inequality at its highest since the 1920s and a growing low-wage sector has caused the ranks of the working poor to swell to more than 47 million. That’s one out of every seven Americans.
Harnessing the anger and economic pain that workers are feeling at the decimation of the middle class, a living wage movement made up of grassroots groups, unions and community organizations has been pushing hard to reverse that trend on numerous front, including by lifting minimum pay at all levels of government. The activists are targeting a US$15 hourly rate in the retail and fast food sectors and trying to pass living wage resolutions that aim to increase base salaries above the poverty line.
While activists have yet to reach their goals at the federal level, they have been very successful convincing voters in cities and states – both conservatives and liberals – to raise their own minimums closer to a living wage. As more states and cities raise their minimums in a significant way, pressure rises on Congress to pass an increase of the federal minimum wage rate. Workers also are making demands directly of their employers, including a visible campaign among fast food and retail workers demanding higher wages, regular schedules, full-time work and dignity on the job.