Wages

The vast majority of American households’ income comes from what workers receive in their paychecks – which is why wages are so important. Unfortunately, wages for most workers grew exceptionally slowly between 1979 and 2012, despite productivity—which essentially measures the economy’s potential for providing rising living standards for all—rising 64 percent. In other words, most Americans, even those with college degrees, have only been treading water—despite working more productively (and being better educated) than ever.

EARN groups provide key research and policy analysis describing how these trends have played out at the state and local levels, and what policymakers can do about it.

Publications

We Must Keep our Promises to the Low-Wage Workers who Keep Maryland Communities Going

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on Maryland communities’ deep reliance on the workers who keep families fed, care for aging adults, and maintain sanitary public spaces. Yet these same workers too often take home wages that cannot support a family, let alone compensate for the daily risks their jobs require. As policymakers respond to the growing economic crisis, they must recognize the need to support the essential workers who support the rest of us. This means strengthening basic protections like the minimum wage and the right to earn paid sick days—not walking back the promises they have already made. Freezing Maryland’s minimum wage at its current, inadequate level would harm the very people now holding up our communities, weaken Maryland’s economy, and ultimately make us all worse off:

  • Freezing the minimum wage would cost a typical low-wage worker more than $7,000 in lost wages by 2025, even as basics like housing and health care continue to become more unaffordable. A proposed—though legally dubious—two-year freeze would cost a typical worker well over $14,000 by 2026.
  • Freezing the minimum wage would do outsized harm to women and workers of color who are overrepresented in low-wage jobs.
  • Freezing the minimum wage would depress consumer spending and weaken Maryland’s economy for years to come.

Further, corporate lobbyists’ recent claims about ignore the best research on the economics of the minimum wage.

The State of Working Vermont 2019

An economist looking at Vermont statistics can see that the state is benefiting from the U.S. economic expansion, which became
the longest on record last summer: There are more jobs, higher wages, fewer children in poverty.1

At the same time, many Vermonters can look at their paychecks and wonder when the recession is going to end. The state’s
economic growth continues to favor those who are well off, while low- and moderate-income families wait for things to pick up.

Both views are true.

Raising the Wage in Virginia Will Benefit Working Families

Everyone in Virginia working a full-time job should be paid enough to provide for their family. However, for many this is not the case. Nearly two-thirds of Virginia families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold have at least one adult who is working, yet they are paid too little to make ends meet. Virginia policymakers could raise the wages of working people in Virginia and help families across the commonwealth by raising Virginia’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, closing loopholes that currently exclude many Black and Latinx workers, and making sure Virginia’s wage laws are fairly enforced.

The federal minimum wage has eroded significantly since the late 1960s compared to the typical cost of living, median wages, and the economic productivity of working people. Virginia’s current minimum wage, set at $7.25 an hour to match the federal minimum, is the lowest in the country compared to the typical cost of living in the state, according to OxFam’s State of Working America report. The choice to maintain this inadequate minimum that leaves many families behind is a part of a pattern in Virginia of policymakers failing to act to protect working families and instead too often erecting barriers to success, particularly for working families of color. This erosion in the minimum wage has particularly harmed Black and Latinx working people. This is because working people of color in Virginia are more likely than white workers in Virginia to be stuck in low-wage occupations due to ongoing job discrimination, lack of educational opportunities, and other barriers that white people in Virginia are less likely to have faced.

Valuing Our Time: Strengthening New Jersey’s Overtime Law

A prosperous New Jersey depends on the livelihood of all our workers. In fact, the state economy benefits most when workers are able to earn fair pay for all the hours they work while balancing employment responsibilities with family obligations. However, millions of people across the nation, including hundreds of thousands in New Jersey, are not covered by overtime protections and risk being exploited for their time.[i] This is a direct result of federal overtime laws that have eroded over time—and the lack of a strong state overtime law—where far too many workers are exempt from the right to earn time-and-a-half when they work over 40 hours a week.

Currently, some salaried white-collar workers who earn more than $23,660 a year can be legally denied overtime pay. These exempted workers (1) are considered “highly compensated,” earning at least $455 per week ($23,660 per year), (2) have primary office or non-manual duties, and (3) pass the “duties test,” a complicated test of employees’ tasks and responsibilities that establish them as a bona fide executive, manager, or highly trained professional.[ii] The federal overtime salary threshold for these exempted workers will increase to $35,568 in 2020, but this still falls significantly short of historical standards.