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  • Writer's pictureDr. Julianne Malveaux


The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. Several states have a higher minimum, but a predictable few, including Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, South Caroina and Alabama, are stuck at that low minimum. If the minimum wage kept up with inflation it would be at least ten dollars an hour today. But twenty-two states are stuck on exploitation and refuse to raise their minimum wage.

Restaurant workers get an even shorter skirt. The minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour, which means they are expected to earn up to the minimum wage, or more, with their tips. But tips are discretionary and arbitrary, and sometimes people tip the expected 15 to 20 percent, and sometimes they don’t. How can they eke out a living wage on other people’s arbitrary judgement. Were they likeable? Friendly? Kind? It doesn’t matter. Did you get your food? Was it hot and delivered in a timely way? If I had my way, I’d charge enough for food to properly pay workers. Tipping is a practice that harkens back to enslavement. People should be paid for their work and should not have to skin and grin to make a living wage.

In the wake of Labor Day, thought, it makes sense to consider the ways that workers experience exploitation and what we must do about it. Workers around the country are resisting exploitation, whether it is Hollywood writers or on university campuses. The United Auto Workers is, as of this writing, on the cusp of a strike, which will have significant reverberations for our economy. A United Parcel Service Strike was narrowly averted and it, too, would have crippled the economy. With labor productivity up, workers are unwilling to settle for paltry 2 and 3 percent annual increases when food and gas prices are rising by 5 and 6 percent. There seems no willingness to increases wages to keep workers “even”, and President Biden, with his “Bidenomics” seems to see the big picture, but not the small one. People are hurting, and employers are pocketing profits and exploiting workers.

The Institute for Policy Studies released a report, Exertive Excess 2023, in which they highlight the 100 companies that have the lowest pay and the greatest ratio of CEO pay to median worker pay. Some of these companies have federal contracts, which means when they offer low pay to workers, they also get subsidies from the rest of us, the taxpayers who support food stamps, medical care, and other amenities that workers who earn little qualify for.

From the report, the ratio between CEO pay and median worker pay is 603-1. The average CEO in the Low Wage 100 earned $15.3 million a year, whiole the average worker earned a scant $31,672 a year. The greatest offender was Live Nation Entertainment. CEO Michael Rufino earned $139 million, 5414 Times more than the average worker who earned $25,673 a year. Amazon, a large federal contractor, is among the most exploitative. But they aren’t alone. Too many companies rip their workers off and also enjoy federal largesse.

Gven these massive paychecks and massive profits, why can’t we raise the federal minimum wage, and why can’t we pay workers more? Predatory capitalism suggest that emploers must extract surplus value from workers. That means that, despite rising worker productivity, employers wuoud attempt to pay as little as they can. The outrageous CEO to worker pay ratios suggest that companies benefit from paying so little. Will workers revolt? Can they?

Too many workers are frightened to strike. They need their jobs and their unions may not have sufficient strike funds to allow them to be out for a long period of time. Do they need their jobs with exploitative terms and conditions of work? Must they work with unfair pay? Is it time for workers to unite?

What would happen if you went to your morning coffee shop to find no one there? Waited for a bus to find no driver, no bus? Managed to get to work to find no coworkers? Wandered to lunch to find no one serving? Tried to stop at a supermarket heading home to find no one working and no food available? Managed home to sort out a mess? We depend on workers but we don’t want to pay them. We agree with their labor actions but don’t want to manage inconvenience. We thought about Labor Day, but we don’t think about workers. When will we raise the federal minimum wage.


Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist, author and educator.

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