Sonoma County residents have an historic opportunity to address two of America’s most critical 21st century issues: one is soaring economic inequality and the explosion of low-wage jobs paying less than $15 an hour; the other is global warming and the imperative to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by ending our reliance on fossil fuel. California communities have addressed both crises with “good jobs and zero waste” policies.
Martin J. Bennett teaches American History at Santa Rosa Junior College, serves as Co-Chair of the Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County, and is a member of the California Federation of Teachers Local 1946. He also is a Research and Policy Analyst for UNITEHERE Local 2850.
Governor Jerry Brown recently signed legislation boosting California’s minimum wage from $10 to $15 an hour — a 50 percent increase that made the state’s minimum wage the highest in the nation. The hike will be phased in over six years, then automatically adjusted annually to offset rising costs of living. According to the UC […]
by Martin J. Bennett
Commemorations on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday tend to portray a moderate civil rights leader who aimed to end segregation and racial discrimination by nonviolent direct action.
Often forgotten is his lifelong belief that a “radical restructuring of the architecture of American society” was needed, and that the fight for racial equality and the struggle for economic justice are intertwined.
Martin Bennett & Fred Glass
Fifty years ago, on August 28, 1963, the nation witnessed the largest march in its history. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom lives on in popular memory as the moment when Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his iconic “I Had A Dream” speech and called for racial integration and reconciliation in America. Most Americans today point to the emergence of a substantial black middle class and the election of the first African American President as evidence of our progress towards that goal.
We tend to overlook the other goal: of jobs that pay living wages and provide economic opportunity for all. Organizers of the March, as its title proclaimed, believed jobs and freedom were tightly bound: the purpose of the March was to address the “twin evils of discrimination and economic deprivation,” as stated in the July, 1963, “Call to Americans.”
The New York Times recently characterized the economic recovery that officially began in 2009 as a “golden era for corporate profits.” Indeed, corporate profits doubled between 2008 and 2011 and reached a record high.
However, these increased profits have fueled inequality and come at the expense of worker compensation. Profits are now a larger share of total national income, and wages and benefits are a smaller share than at any time since the 1960s.
Over the last four decades productivity gains have overwhelmingly accrued to business and not labor. The Economic Policy Institute calculates that between 1973-2011 productivity increased by 80 percent, but median hourly compensation by only 11 percent.
Martin J. Bennett
With the fall elections upon us, Californians are reeling under a weak recovery, enduring both historic levels of income inequality, and the most severe fiscal crisis in recent history. To address the crisis we must have some common sense remedies: raise taxes on the wealthy and build a movement for a fair and more equitable tax system.
Income inequality has exploded over the last two decades in both the nation and California. UC Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez has documented that the share of national income received by the upper 1 percent more than doubled from 9 percent in 1979 to an astonishing 23 percent in 2007. The richest 1 percent raked in a staggering 60 percent of the national income gains over these three decades, while the bottom 90 percent received just 9 percent.
and Richard Walker
The nation is experiencing the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. Princeton economist and former vice-chair of the Federal Reserve, Alan Blinder, calls the current crisis a “national jobs emergency.” The official unemployment rate in September was 9.1 percent – nearly twice the rate a decade ago – leaving 14 million people out of work. In California, the rate is much worse, 12.1 percent, with over two million workers out of luck.
President Obama’s jobs plan would provide a much-needed extension of unemployment benefits and a payroll tax cut for working Americans, but it will do little to dent the catastrophic rate of unemployment. What we need today is a massive jobs program like the Works Progress Administration (WPA) launched by President Franklin Roosevelt. The WPA put millions of people back to work in the midst of the Great Depression, restoring their dignity, putting money in their pockets, and quite literally saving lives.
by Martin J. Bennett
A recent article in the Economist magazine titled “Tough Times for Everyone – Except Public Sector Workers” states that taxpayers are now learning about “the banquet public sector workers have been having at the expense of everyone else” and that many public employees can “retire in their mid-50s on close to full pay.”
These unsubstantiated claims–repeated endlessly in media–stand reality on its head. Such accusations are part of a systematic campaign by corporate America to mislead taxpayers and scapegoat public employees. California public sector workers, such as teachers, public health nurses, firefighters, librarians, maintenance, park, transit, and social workers are not responsible for the economic crisis that makes drastic cuts to state and local governments necessary. These public employees earn modest, middle-class pay and benefits.