In order for America to break free of this recession, middle class workers – our economic engine – must earn enough money on the job to cover basic needs, pay the mortgage, and save a little bit every month. In other words, people need a living wage.
Unfortunately, because American wages have actually declined over the past decade, families are struggling and the economy remains stagnant. (Unless of course you work on Wall Street.) The latest evidence for this trend comes from Searching for Work that Pays, a new report just issued by The Alliance for a Just Society:
From 2001 to 2007, two-thirds of the income generated by the economy was absorbed by the top one percent of households in the country… Between 2002 and 2007, while the productivity of workers grew, hourly pay dropped for typical workers with a high school or college education… Wage deceleration has only continued during the downturn. Limited wage growth restricts the capacity of the group most critical to the economy’s revival – working families. And, a true recovery will not come from families relying on personal debt, as families were forced to do in recent decades while wages stagnated.
The costs of low wages are, in a word, astounding. Families are losing their homes at record rates. The poverty rate has reached it’s highest point in 17 years. The unemployment rate hovers around 10%. And of the people that still have jobs, far fewer are earning a ‘living wage’ — that is, one that is able to support them and their families.
In Washington state, the living wage for a single adult is $15.28/hour. Yet 42% of job openings in Washington pay less than $15.28/hour — and there are, on average, seven job seekers for every one job at that wage. View the graph below to see living wages for a variety of Washington families with children, toddlers, single parents, etc.
If an economic recovery is to occur across the nation – and not just on Wall Street – we need economic policies that restore middle class prosperity through jobs that pay good wages and have decent benefits, keep college affordable for all families, protect consumers from illegal foreclosures and other financial scams, and ensure each person can have a secure and dignified retirement in their old age.