Feb.-March '01 Articles:

Ripe for Revolt: Building a New Left

Editorial: You Are What You Eat

Mindpower: American Wage$ IMPACT Column

The K Chronicles

Pigs at the Trough: Corporate Welfare

(music reviews)

The Muddlemarch: 1

The Muddlemarch: 2

Profits from Poverty: The Prison-Industrial Complex

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American Wage$

All through the Christmas season, I kept hearing department stores whining about low sales. Things were so bad that many stores started lowering prices. I saw prices as low as 70% off the regular price.

Some folks blamed the economy. The idea was that a slowing economy scared folks and they didnšt want to part with their money. Other folks blamed that election mess. In case the wrong person wins the presidency, money had to be saved to help survive the bad times ahead.I didnšt agree with either. I blamed it on something that many folks overlooked. This very thing is why I felt no sympathy for department stores, especially those that had high-priced merchandise to begin with. I knew this one problem was one day going to bite greedy Corporate America in the ass.

I blamed the low sales on wages.

According to a 1999 report titled "State Of Working America" from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) (a nonprofit, nonpartisan think-tank that seeks to broaden the public debate about strategies to achieve a prosperous and fair economy) American wages have not kept up with the "growing economy." Despite a 2.6% annual gain since 1996, median wages still trail the 1989 peak. This forces families to work six addition weeks to keep pace. Earnings for new college grads are also down.

Some economists blame technology for hurting low-wage workers, but others, like John Ydstie (economic correspondent for National Public Radio), point out that highly educated workers have also felt technology's sting. For instance, company computers have replaced many middle managers.

According to the EPI report, when downsized workers find another job, their wages and company benefits are lower.

The main culprits in this decline in wages are less union bargaining, a decrease in manufacturing jobs, globalization and the increase of lower-wage service sector jobs (like Wal-Mart). As wages for workers decrease, wages for CEOs increase. In fact, between 1989 and 1997, CEO pay increased to 116 times that of workers, according to the EPI report. (Think about this the next time a multi-million dollar company complains about low sales.) There are ways to fight this kind of exploitation.

One way is to stop buying high-priced merchandise from companies that exploit third world countries. For example, the price of making a name brand sneaker can be 100 times cheaper than the U.S. retail price. In other words, a shoe that cost one dollar to make in the third world is jacked up to one hundred dollars once it hits the States. If companies like those donšt want to hire Americans, but expect Americans to pay high prices for their merchandise, they deserve to be boycotted.

To jump on a cliché, buy American.

Another way is to increase the minimum wage. The latest trendy talk is that the minimum wage should be abolished. Some say big government needs to butt out. Others say a person should get paid based on what the employer thinks the worker deserves.

Before the minimum wage, some employees were working up to 60 hours a week with very little pay. The minimum wage law was enacted to put an end to this.

Some folks say that hiking the minimum wage would cost jobs. This is false. There never has been proof of this.

The problem with minimum wage is that it is not a living wage. That is why some cities have enacted a living wage law in their communities. Companies that want to move into these cities have to agree to pay their employees a living wage.

(Oh yeah, Governor Jesse of Minnesota is against this kind of practice. Of all the big-mouth bravery he spits out, this proves what I have always suspected. Jesse Ventura is a flamboyant corporate pawn.)

Some cities are big on living wages; they have recognized that a reasonable distribution of wealth helps the local economy. How is a place going to sell high-priced sneakers when folks in the community don't have that kind of money to spend on sneakers? What low-wage worker can afford such luxuries?

This is why I have no sympathy for last yearšs department store "crisis." Companies ought to pay Americans a decent wage.

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Other MindPower columns by Patrick Scott Barnes: