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Isaiah J. Poole
Published: Friday 4 May 2012
“Tax cuts do not equal an aggressive jobs program,” Smiley said, responding to such proposals as a recently passed bill in the House of Representatives that would give $46 billion in tax cuts to so-called “small businesses,” even those that earn hundreds of millions of dollars, in the name of job creation.

Tavis Smiley Says Fight Poverty With Living-Wage Jobs

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As the political establishment prepares to do battle Friday over what is likely to be another mediocre jobs report, talk-show host Tavis Smiley this afternoon called for a living-wage jobs program as part of an all-out offensive against poverty in America.

"What we need is a program for creating jobs with a living wage," Smiley said during a conference call set up to promote the book he wrote with author and educator Cornel West, "The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto."

The book is an in-depth look at income inequality in America and its political, economic, and moral dimensions. Smiley calls poverty "the moral and spiritual issue of our time" and is urging the White House to convene a "conference on the eradication of poverty" that would come up with a specific plan with concrete benchmarks for lowering the national poverty rate.

And without question, jobs would be a central part of that agenda.

"Tax cuts do not equal an aggressive jobs program," Smiley said, responding to such proposals as a recently passed bill in the House of Representatives that would give $46 billion in tax cuts to so-called "small businesses," even those that earn hundreds of millions of dollars, in the name of job creation. That legislation, according to Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation, would actually have had too small an effect on the economy to be measured.

What Smiley and West call for is a minimum wage of at least $10 an hour; the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. The minimum wage is higher in 18 states and the District of Columbia, but the highest minimum wage in the country is $8.80 an hour, in Oregon.

Smiley's call for living-wage jobs was affirmed today by a new report by the National Employment Law Project that found that Americans are earning less in real terms than they did a year ago.

Even as the economy has shown signs of picking up in 2012, weak wage growth is permeating the labor market from virtually all sides. Hourly wages are growing slower than they did before the recession; the real value of wages has fallen over the past year; new job creation has skewed to lower-paying jobs; and wages for new and returning entrants in the workforce are declining. Additionally, the wages for Americans who already have jobs are flat, and those in minimum wage jobs find their spending power falling every year, reaching levels well below the historic standard.

The report, in fact, says that private sector workers saw their wages fall more than a half-percent in real terms in the past year, and production workers were among those who saw their wages fall by a full percent in real terms.

The National Employment Law Project also noted today that if the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since 1968, when a minimum-wage job came closest to allowing a person to rise above the poverty line, the minimum wage today would be $10.55 an hour.

"The Rich and The Rest of Us" talks about the trends updated by the NELP report. It points out, for example, that 60 percent of the jobs lost during the Great Recession—or "depression," as Paul Krugman calls it—were in mid-wage occupations, 73 percent of the newly created jobs have been in low-wage occupations.

As Smiley talked about unemployment, he also talked about the "bankrupt" languages we use when talk about people who are struggling economically.

"This notion of the working poor, we take that terminology on in the book," Smiley said. "If you work in America you ought not to be poor, and the fact that we have as a part of our lexicon 'working poor' is troubling to us."

Nor should we be talking about a "jobless recovery," Smiley said. If it is jobless, it is not recovery.

"The Rich and The Rest of Us" was prompted by the "poverty tour" that Smiley and West undertook in 2011, which unfortunately attracted more mainstream media attention for Smiley and West's criticism of the Obama administration than for the damage caused by conservative economic policies that the tour sought to uncover.

The book seeks to refocus the debate on what the nation must do to correct an economic imbalance that Smiley says is unsustainable and is in fact "a threat to our democracy." And while Smiley calls on the White House to convene a conference on the eradication of poverty, one of the chapters of his book is called "The Poverty of Opportunity." Ensuring that every American has the opportunity to get a good job at a living wage has to be at the center of any effort to narrow the gap between the rich and the rest of us.

palsimon's picture

My friend is working as a

My friend is working as a caregiver for an agency earning only $10 an hour, and she is obligated to work weekends for that same amount. No raises expected, no auto expenses, no overtime pay, nothing. And she is considered a good employee, having worked many, many years in this position. I also know that some seniors who need caregivers cannot afford to pay much, but most of her clients are very, very wealthy. She feels lucky to have work and continues on with "gratitude" that she, at least, has a job. Sad indeed.

My sister graduated from high

My sister graduated from high school in 1965 after which she got a job for minimum wage, about $1.50 an hour. At the time she could buy 6 gallons of gas and she could also buy 3 kids tickets to the movies for one hours work. I remember that because I loved her to take me to the movies. In CA our minimum wage now is about $8.00 an hour and for that tremendous wage you might be able to buy 2 gallons of gas for an hours work. This shows how much our life style has changed since the late 60's. There's no way anyone could work 120 hours a week which is what it would take to buy the same goods and services today as in the 60's ... it's not just the amount of money it's the amount of time. Since that dawning of the age of Aquarius, there have been many policy decisions on both sides of the aisle that have facilitated our life style's downward spiral. I hope that sometime SOON someone in our government will have the intestinal fortitude to take us from this aboslute craziness back to where were some 50 years ago. Hopefully we can return to a life of excitment about the sweet future and away from the bitterness and pragamatic despair that many have as they ponder their future now.

Minimum wage in both

Minimum wage in both Australia and Canada is higher than anywhere in the US. In Australia it's over 15.50 an hour. I state this to show that increasing minimum wage to dignified living levels isn't necessarily a negative on the economy. Canada and Australia are both economically better off than the USA at present.

I'm not saying that raising minimum wages saves the world either. I'm simply pointing out that increasing minimum wage has a domino effect resulting in a zero sum game economically is not necessarily true.

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