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

The Big Rig Overhaul: Restoring Middle-Class Jobs at America’s Ports Though Labor Law Enforcement

Our research found the dire working conditions of port truck drivers to have flowed from the practice of treating employees as if they were ‘independent contractors,’ an illegal practice called misclassification. At the time of our first report, there were practically no official government investigations to verify our findings despite a host of enforcement agencies being responsible for preventing misclassification.

That has now changed. Our findings match those coming from recent investigations of employment practices common in the industry by the United States Department of Labor, the Internal Revenue Service, the National Labor Relations Board, and various state agencies. More importantly, these investigations signal a new dynamic, one with practical ramifications for the organization of work in the industry as well as for broader discussions of inequality in this country.

Louisiana Needs a Higher Wage

Louisianans of all political stripes strongly favor establishing a state minimum wage of at least $8.50 an hour that would keep pace with the cost of living, according to polling data released as part of a new report from the Louisiana Budget Project.

The poll of 1,279 Louisiana adults by LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab found that 73 percent of the public supports raising the wage from the current minimum of $7.25 per hour. The support is consistent across party lines, with 62 percent of Republicans favoring the higher wage along with nearly 70 percent of political independents. Voters in every age, income and racial bracket support the higher wage.

“While some politicians make the minimum wage a partisan issue, the verdict from everyday Louisianans is clear and bipartisan: it’s time to give workers a raise,” LBP Director Jan Moller said.

The data is included in a new report by David Gray, “Louisiana Needs a Higher Wage,” that also found that an $8.50 minimum wage would provide an immediate raise for 184,000 workers, create an estimated 1,400 new jobs and pump more than $187 million into Louisiana’s economy. Raising the wage to $10.10 per hour would have even bigger benefits for workers and the overall economy.

“This report should put to rest some of the tired misconceptions about minimum wage workers, “ Moller said. “A modest raise in the minimum wage would have huge benefits for Louisiana workers and would actually help create jobs as workers have bigger paychecks to spend throughout the economy.”

Many people assume that minimum wage workers are mainly teens working part-time jobs. But the reality is that teens make up less than 10 percent of the minimum wage workforce. Nearly one-third of all low-wage workers are over 40, and almost two-thirds work full-time hours.

Giving West Virginia’s Workers a Raise: Increasing the State Minimum Wage

On April 14, 2013, the West Virginia House adopted HCR 107, expressing support for President Obama’s proposal to increase the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour and index it to inflation, in
recognition of the decreasing value of the minimum wage and the idea that no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.

Wages for West Virginia’s workers, and in particular low-wage workers, have eroded, not just in recent years, but over the past several decades. As fewer workers have enjoyed the fruits of a growing economy, problems like income inequality and poverty are growing problems in the state. While there is no one quick fix, raising the minimum wage and adjusting it over time are key to reversing the long-term erosion of low-wage worker’s earnings and combating inequality and poverty.

Raise LA: How Good Hotel Jobs Will Boost Local Businesses, Strengthen Neighborhoods and Renew Our Economy

Poverty jobs in LA’s hotels are exacerbating the problem of poverty throughout the city. Workplace standards for tens of thousands of LA’s hotel workers remain among the lowest of the city’s major employment sectors. Hotel workers are a key piece of LA’s highly successful tourism industry, but maintaining standards for workers has been largely ignored as hotel operators have focused intensely on boosting their bottom lines by increasing worker productivity.

Establishing a minimum wage for workers in LA’s large hotels will directly address the problem of growing poverty in the city of Los Angeles and will stimulate our local economy by an estimated $71 million per year in increased local consumer spending and related economic activity.