Commentary: Too many people aren’t earning enough to get by

Here we go again. As soon as raising the state’s minimum wage is mentioned, out of the woods comes Dr. John E. Stapleford scaring up the public with doom of businesses closing their doors should such an increase occur. (“Minimum wage hike would burden businesses.”)

The conservative Caesar Rodney Institute must have this article printed in the DSN Jan. 16, 2020 boiler plated on their computer because it spews the same trash each year this subject arises.

Frank Calio

Their fear is not any closings, but that the large corporations who are hitting record highs in earnings may have to share some of those profits made by the efforts of the working class who are barely living on their current salary.

Most of the conservative opposition usually uses McDonald’s as an example of closing their doors. Ever seen one close except from a poor location?

No, Dr. Stapleford, what every business does when there is a wage increase, raise their prices. Every year businesses need to raise the price of their product as the expense of running their business increases without giving their employees a raise.

Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its Employment Situation report to outline the latest state of the nation’s economy. With unemployment hovering around 3.5%, a decade of job growth, the numbers have mostly been good news. But low unemployment isn’t worth much if the jobs barely pay.

But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Are these jobs any good, how much do they pay, so workers make enough to live on?

The answer is no for a distressingly large share of the workforce. There are a variety of indices — The United Way’s ALICE threshold, MIT’s living wage calculator, the Self-Sufficiency Standard, and EPI’s Family Budget Calculator that show basic costs of living, housing, food, child care, transportation, health care, taxes, frequently outpacing earnings from low-wage jobs, even in families with more than one worker.

Here, the story is less rosy. In a recent analysis by Brooking Metro, it was found that 53 million workers ages 18-64 or 44% of all workers earn barely enough to live on. Their median earnings are $10.22 per hour, about $18,000 a year. These low-wage workers are concentrated in a relatively small number of occupations, retail sales, cooks, food and beverage servers, janitors and housekeepers, personal care and service workers such as child care workers and patient care assistants, and various administrative positions.

These statistics tell an important story: millions of hard-working American adults struggle to eke out a living and support their families on very low wages.

Other research from Brooking Metro and the Federal Reserve suggests that there are not enough decent-paying jobs for people without bachelor’s degrees, workers without bachelor’s degrees make up not just the majority of the low-wage workforce but the majority of the labor force as a whole, so the shortage of such jobs has wide-ranging consequences.

Bottom line, Dr. Stapleford and Mr. Chan, we should look at individuals, not national averages as the unit of analysis, and ask: Are wages adequate? Can people support themselves and their families if they work full time?

Anyone who watches the stock market or is lucky to have a 401K needs to realize millions of Americans who do not receive stock dividends or have a 401k are not enjoying the current economic boom.

Instead they struggle to pay the rent, clothe their young, and put food on the table. Their are people working and living in their vehicles while the rich become richer and the working class standard of living declines under this administration.

Frank B. Calio, of Laurel, is former Delaware state election commissioner and former director of economic development, Sussex County Council.