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We are worth more

 

This week, the nation celebrated Labor Day—some by cooking out with friends and family, some by going on strike to demand economic justice. (Of course, some were unable to celebrate at all). In Boston, workers, labor unions, community organizations, and faith groups marched from the Common to Copley to honor workers for their relentless contributions and to speak out for a fair economy. One woman on strike accentuated why she showed up:

“We are worth more. We deserve $15 an hour. We deserve a fair wage, benefits to support our families, but we also need a union because without a union, we will fight for scraps while CEOs make billions.”

Right now, people across the Commonwealth are fighting for stronger unions for the underpaid and overworked, and to secure two ballot measures for next November—a $15-minimum wage and Paid Family and Medical Leave.

Success of these efforts would benefit nearly a third of workers in Massachusetts. For these workers, it would mean a living wage, the ability to take paid time off for personal or family healthcare needs, and the opportunity to advocate for more substantial benefits to support their families. It would transform the lives of young women like the one we heard from on Monday—a high school student employed by both McDonalds and Burger King, where she makes $11 an hour. She has lived away from her family and on her own for three years now. Her income from the two jobs has been enough to cover the basics—like food, diapers, and transportation—but she recently moved into a shelter with her two-month old daughter because she is unable to afford a home of her own.

We also heard from a healthcare worker, and a janitor, and a Dunkin Donuts employee who reminded us that America does not run on Dunkin, but “on us workers because we are the workers that are there every day.” We heard from women, immigrants, people of color, parents—all of whom are fighting for the chance not just to get by, but to thrive.

While it’s crucial that we take to the streets and State House to challenge these injustices head-on, this blog will offer a chance to take a step back and to reflect. Why is this happening? How did we get here? What features of the system are at play? How can we move forward? We will deconstruct free-market capitalism, identify what the market failures really are, and classify the benefits and the tradeoffs. We will explore our economic system in its unadulterated form, and point out the unintended consequences that have activated a fired-up response from the people. This bi-weekly blog will share lessons from the graduate course, “Economic Analysis for Law, Policy, and Planning,” so that we can use an economic lens to understand the roots of what’s unfolding in Boston and across the nation.

There is no doubt that rising economic inequality is one of the gravest threats to our society. Across the nation, 42 percent of all workers—and more than 50 percent of blacks and 60 percent of Latinxs—earn less than $15 an hour. Women, and especially women of color, are hit the hardest. Senator Ed Markey illuminated the reality of working Americans on Monday, and of the staggering wage gap:

“You should not work 40 hours a week and have your family still live below the poverty line. That is immoral, that is unjust, and we know that the majority are women… it is wrong that [white] women still make 77 cents on the dollar of a white man; that African American women make 63 cents… that Latinas make 55 cents.”

Massachusetts, a place that prides itself on economic opportunity, has fallen to sixth in the nation for its egregious income inequality.

Though there may be no such thing as a free lunch, let’s understand how our capitalist system has manifested and listen to what workers, who are ceaselessly keeping the engine running, really need. This is all about balancing the fundamentals on paper with the action on the ground. With this understanding, we have a real chance at raising up workers and their families for the long run.

 

Published On: September 5, 2017 |
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