Winning the Fight for $15 in 2016

Millions of low-paid Americans rang in 2016 with a raise, as a handful of state minimum wage increases went into effect on the first day of January.

Many of those raises are a barely noticeable 15 or 20 cents an hour — little comfort to people struggling to make ends meet. But workers in the cities and states that voted for more robust wages last year saw much more significant gains.

Minimum wage workers in Alaska, California, Massachusetts, and Nebraska, for example, are finding a dollar-an-hour increase in their paychecks. Workers in Hawaii are enjoying an extra $1.25 an hour. In Seattle, some workers at bigger companies are seeing a substantial $2 hourly increase as the city’s $15 minimum wage is phased in.

The national campaign for a $15 minimum wage emerged as a leading economic justice issue last year. It’s also a critical racial justice issue: Half of all African-American workersand almost 60 percent of Latino workers make less than $15 an hour.

The momentum to raise the minimum wage will only increase in 2016 as public support grows. Yet too many states — 21 of them, concentrated mainly in the South — haven’t budged from the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, unchanged since 2009.

Many of these holdouts have deep pools of poverty. Most deny poor families health care by refusing to expand Medicaid, and nearly all have held the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers to $2.13 an hour for 25 years.

The problem with efforts to raise the wage city by city and state by state is that it leaves out workers in states without a citizen initiative process, or in communities without strong unions or leadership. Millions of low-wage workers are at risk of becoming a left-behind underclass.

That means it’s time for Congress to increase the national minimum wage — and to abolish the lower, sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. If they aren’t sure how to do it, leaders from New York to Los Angeles have provided plenty of examples.

Research from my organization, the Alliance for a Just Society, shows that a living wage for a single adult ranges from $14.26 in Arkansas to $21.44 in Hawaii. On average, a worker would have to put in 93 hours a week just to get by on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

The numbers underscore the crisis facing families in our country.

Often, low-wage workers are told that the solution is to go get a better-paying job, but the reality is there are nowhere near enough jobs that pay a living wage. The occupations with the most job openings — in retail and restaurants — pay the least, and they’re most likely to be part-time.

We’ve become a low-wage nation, with implications that reach far beyond just low pay. Low-wage jobs also mean part-time hours, unpredictable schedules, and no benefits or paid sick leave — making it impossible for workers to break even.

It’s unacceptable that anyone who works full-time in our country should go hungry, homeless, or without care for their child. This is the year to make all wages living wages. Without action, Congress is endorsing the creation of a new class of poverty among our workers.

Jill Reese is the associate director of the Alliance for a Just Society, a national organization focusing on economic and racial justice. AllianceForAJustSociety.org
Distributed by OtherWords.org

This article first appeared in OtherWords.org
http://otherwords.org/winning-the-fight-for-15-in-2016/

“While We Celebrate a $15 Minimum Wage, Let’s Remember It’s Not Enough”

There has been a lot of buzz around the Seattle City Council’s historic adoption of a $15 minimum wage, the highest in the nation. Now there’s also excitement over last week’s passage of a living wage ordinance by the King County Council that sets the same wage floor for county employees and contractors.

Yes, $15 is more than twice the federal minimum wage, which stands at a paltry $7.25 an hour and that Congress has failed to increase for five years and counting.

But despite the recent local victories, let’s not hang up a “Mission Accomplished” banner just yet; we still have a long way to go. In this debate, some have argued that $15 is too big of a jump. On the contrary, it does not go far enough.

First and foremost, $15 is not enough for King County families to meet basic needs.

In August, the Alliance for a Just Society and Washington Community Action Network jointly released “Families Out of Balance,” which calculates basic expenses for King County residents.

The report finds that the hourly wage full-time workers in King County need to make basic ends meet, ranges from $17.37 an hour for a single individual to $34.46 for a single adult with two children. These calculations include food, housing, utilities, transportation, health care, household, small savings, child care and tax costs. They assume a 40-hour workweek. (See http://www.thejobgap.org.)

Meanwhile, if you can’t make ends meet, it’s not as simple as just finding another job. Another study the Alliance released last year found that, for every living wage job for a single individual in Washington state, there are eight job-seekers.

For a single parent with two kids, there are 21 job seekers for every living wage job. Seventy-eight percent of all job openings in Washington don’t pay enough for that parent to survive.

Quite simply, many King County families aren’t making ends meet, and $15 is not a living wage.

Our improved minimum wage falls short by other measures as well. A Center for Economic and Policy Research report finds that, had the federal minimum wage kept up with economic productivity, it should have been $21.72 an hour in 2012, about three times the current minimum wage.

It is also worth noting that several exceptions have watered down the policy. The Seattle minimum wage is phased-in, getting to $15 an hour gradually between 2017 and 2021, depending on the size of the business and whether it offers health care.

The Seattle wage schedule gets us closer to an actual living wage than we’ve been in the history of our living wage study, which goes back to 1999. But in reality, it remains a modest step in the right direction.

In the end, the triumph of $15 is that it was a bottom-up approach to progressive policy change that succeeded. After all, it was Seattle’s low-wage workers who first had the courage to demand a $15 minimum wage — and they got it.

Many families face impossible balance sheets, paying living costs, maybe student loan debt or medical bills, and are having excruciating kitchen table conversations.

A $15 minimum wage is a huge step in the right direction, but we must remember that this is only the beginning in the movement for a more prosperous Washington and America.

This article originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

Online Community College for Organizations Helps Connect Leaders

“Education (should be) the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” – Paulo Freire

“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” ― Malcolm X

The Alliance for a Just Society kicked off our new political education program – the Online Community College for Community Organizations – with a training course for the facilitators who will be central to the successful implementation of the program.

Ten staff and leaders from five states (Maine, Montana, Oregon, Virginia and Washington) participated in the two-day session. They were introduced to, and then helped shape, the political education curricula. They became familiar with the technology the program will be run through, and discussed the specifics of how the program will be implemented in their states. It was a busy two days!

Trainers at tableThe addition of an online component to the Alliance’s existing training program is exciting. The Online Community College for Community Organization will give us the ability to connect leaders across the country. We will be able to engage them in critical thinking and dialogue in order to develop their analytical skills and illuminate our values and worldview. Our curricula were developed to provoke discussion by showing videos, suggesting readings, and referencing pop culture such as art and music.

Community colleges were developed to make continuing education accessible, affordable and flexible for people in local communities. They have given ‘non-traditional’ students access to higher education, breaking down elite barriers to lifelong learning. That’s the idea behind our Online Community College, to provide a space for engagement with political ideas, especially when that engagement is tied to action. Our audience will include leaders at all levels of experience, online activists and other members drawn to the course content.

The program will go live with grassroots leaders on May 29. Some 75 leaders are expected to experiment in the first round of the pilot. The first session is devoted to economic inequality. Later trainings will focus on citizenship and another on the role of government.

All of the curricula are designed to give participants a framework for analyzing multiple issues, to understand the forces and systems that drive the problems we seek to address, to grapple with the contradictions we face in organizing, and to practice developing political vision and creativity around solutions.

We are thrilled to get this program rolling and to have a strong team of organizers and leaders across the country dedicated to making it a success!

 

 

Left in the Dark

Today, members of the Health Rights Organizing Project called on the federal government to prevent health insurance companies from denying health care to people who speak limited English. Under the new health reform law, patients have the right to appeal insurance companies’ health care denials. Insurers are supposed to inform patients of these rights, including patients not fluent in English. Read more

New State Health Insurance Exchange Rules Must Be Strengthened

Earlier this summer, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a preliminary set of regulations that instruct states in the development of their new health insurance marketplaces, also called exchanges. These rules govern all aspects of how the exchanges are run and are a key mechanism for reigning in health insurance company profiteering.

There are a few key aspects of the rules that could be strengthened to ensure that the exchanges function for the benefit of people, not health insurance companies. Right now, HHS is accepting comments to help them revise the rules. This is our opportunity to set a high bar for states to meet or exceed – click here to sign a petition telling HHS that they must ensure that state exchanges: Read more

Medicaid Makes a Difference Report

Congress is locked in a budget battle that’s grabbed round-the-clock media attention. Lost in the coverage are the real stakes in the debate, including the lives of the more than 50 million people covered by Medicaid, which is now in the budget-cutting cross-hairs. More than half of these 50 million are people of color. Racial disparities in health coverage have already reached alarming proportions. Cuts to Medicaid would make these disparities even worse, taking a toll on the real lives of real people.

The experiences and perspectives of some of these real people are captured in Medicaid Makes a Difference: Protecting Medicaid, Advancing Racial Equity, from the Alliance for a Just Society and 14 members of its Health Rights Organizing Project, a network of grassroots organizations across the country committed to the fight for health equity.
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Medicaid Matters across Generations

On July 12th, over 250 people joined with Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Al Franken of Minnesota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri to highlight the important role Medicaid plays for seniors, kids, families and America and to decry recently proposed cuts to the critical program. The Alliance for a Just Society worked with Caring Across Generations, PICO, Campaign for Community Change, Community Catalyst, and Health Care for America Now! to make this event a success. Read more

The Exchange in Vermont: A Model for Other States

On May 6, the Vermont State Legislature passed a law creating a new health policy for its state.  The Governor signed it into law that same day. The Act, H. 202, includes a fairly comprehensive set of policies that should serve as a model for other states to follow.

H. 202 not only creates an exchange for Vermont, but it also creates a public option to private insurance, places controls on pharmaceutical and provider costs, and unifies the administration of public health care systems.

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Why Medicaid Matters

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicaid and Medicare into law.

At the signing ceremony, he spoke of the tradition of leadership that compelled the country to create such programs. He also spoke of another tradition, one embedded in our national identity and values. He said this value “calls upon us never to be indifferent toward despair. It commands us never to turn away from helplessness. It directs us never to ignore or to spurn those who suffer untended in a land that is bursting with abundance.”

Unfortunately, the recent actions of many Members of Congress fly in the face of this tradition. Read more