Blackadder, I’m expecting your answer to be characteristically parsed and lawyerly, but I’ll ask anyway: Do you think there is any imbalance in power between Walmart (say) and a door greeter or stocker that works there? If so, in your libertarian utopia who or what would protect the workers from abuse by management?
It’s a good question. Continue reading
The New York Times had an editorial Monday arguing that Barack Obama ought to give attention in crafting his stimulus/public works program to the plight of teen workers. As the Times puts it:
Young people who fail to find early jobs are more likely to remain underemployed or unemployed into their 20s and beyond. The risks are compounded for low-income youth, who are more likely to leave school and have other problems when they do not find work.
According to a recent analysis by Andrew Sum, an economist at Northeastern University, the percentage of teens employed has fallen from nearly 45 percent in 2000 to about 30 percent today. That is almost 10 times the decrease for adult workers, who are increasingly taking jobs that once went to teenagers.
The situation is far worse in low-income minority areas, where the youth employment rate appears to be hovering not much above 10 percent. That will only get worse as the economy contracts. And even when the recession ends, it could take an additional two or three years before youth employment begins to recover.
ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) has been much in the news of late, as the group is being investigated by the FBI and by the state’s of Ohio, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, Missouri, Indiana, and Washington for possible voter registration fraud. Some have claimed that ACORN is trying to swing the election in favor of Senator Obama via illegal means. Others claim that ACORN is a good group, unfairly maligned by Republicans desperate to distract attention from their own dismal election prospects.
My familiarity with the group dates from a case a few years ago in California involving the minimum wage. You see, in addition to its voter registration activities, ACORN is a big advocate and agitator in favor of living wage ordinances, which it has helped to pass in several localities. In 1995, however, the group sued for an exemption to California’s $4.25 an hour minimum wage, claiming that the law was unconstitutional (only as applied to them). According to the Court, ACORN sought to justify it’s position as follows:
ACORN contends that California’s minimum wage laws, while facially constitutional as supported by the compelling state interest of ensuring wages adequate to maintain a decent standard of living (see Industrial Welfare Com. v. Superior Court, (1980) 27 Cal.3d 690, 701), are unconstitutional as applied to ACORN because they restrict ACORN’s ability to engage in political advocacy. According to ACORN, this adverse impact will be manifested in two ways: first, ACORN will be forced to hire fewer workers; second, its workers, if paid the minimum wage, will be less empathetic with ACORN’s low and moderate income constituency and will therefore be less effective advocates.
Former Senator and 1972 Democratic Presidential nominee, George McGovern, has in recent years become something of a liberty loving fellow. In his most recent column, he writes about the so-called “card check” legislation currently pending in Congress that would do away with secret ballots for union elections:
As a longtime friend of labor unions, I must raise my voice against pending legislation I see as a disturbing and undemocratic overreach not in the interest of either management or labor.
The legislation is called the Employee Free Choice Act, and I am sad to say it runs counter to ideals that were once at the core of the labor movement. Instead of providing a voice for the unheard, EFCA risks silencing those who would speak.
The key provision of EFCA is a change in the mechanism by which unions are formed and recognized. Instead of a private election with a secret ballot overseen by an impartial federal board, union organizers would simply need to gather signatures from more than 50% of the employees in a workplace or bargaining unit, a system known as “card-check.” There are many documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards that have led to mandatory payment of dues.
Under EFCA, workers could lose the freedom to express their will in private, the right to make a decision without anyone peering over their shoulder, free from fear of reprisal.
Suppose that an employer pays some or all of his workers the minimum wage. If the minimum wage is raised, he might respond by raising the wages of his workers to this new minimum. But this is hardly his only option. Instead of raising wages, he might decide to move the jobs in question to a place where the minimum wage law in question does not apply. He might decide to automate the jobs, so that they are done by machines instead of workers. He might decide to lay off workers (or to hire fewer new workers than he otherwise would have done), and indeed he may be forced to do this if the higher labor costs imposed by the new minimum wage law render his business unprofitable.
To deny that an increased minimum wage law decreases employment is to claim that no employer would respond to an increase in the minimum wage in any of these ways, or that any employer who did respond in one of these ways would be canceled out by other employers who responded to the minimum wage hike by hiring more workers than they otherwise would have. This, needless to say, does not strike me as being very plausible.
This negative employment effect is one argument against minimum wage laws, but it isn’t the only one. Another common argument involves demographics. Minimum wage laws aim to help poor workers, yet they apply to low wage workers, and these are not always the same people. Around half of minimum wage workers, for example, are teenagers, many of whom, presumably, do not rely on the wages from these jobs for their daily bread. This is a particularly vexing problem for those who want to use minimum wage laws as a proxy for a just wage, defined as a wage sufficient to support oneself and one’s family, since a just wage will be higher for those with families than for those without. Continue reading
If you’re a married woman living in the New York City area, there’s a better than 50 percent chance that you don’t work, according to a recent analysis of Census data by economists affiliated with the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank.
More specifically, only 49 percent of white high school-educated married women in their prime working ages were holding down jobs in the New York area as of the 2000 Census. To put that in perspective, there are roughly 2 million woman over 15-years-old who are married in the New York area.
The national average for this particular demographic is 67 percent. At the other end of the spectrum is Minneapolis where almost 80 percent of these married women are employed — that’s larger than the percentage of working men aged 25 and older in the U.S.
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