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ANSWERING Cotvat, e dit S E R VICE KATHLEEN O’CONNELL P.O. BOX 3005 477-8278 AUSTIN. IX 78764 Legislation to raise the minimum wage to $4.65 an hour has been introduced in Congress and according to Bill Camela, legislative director in the office of Congressman Augustus Hawkins, D-California, there are sufficient votes to get the bill out of an Education & Labor sub-committee. “But it will be a tough vote on the floor,” Camela said. The bill would also face a floor fight in the Senate, according to Camela. And, despite a softening of public opposition by Secretary of Commerce William Brock, it is not certain that the President would sign the legislation if it were to pass. Under President Ronald Reagan, the minimum wage has suffered from malign neglect. The Administration has even tried to enact a “subminimum wage” for teenagers for the summer months under the misguided notion that it would counter youth unemployment. As the prices of housing, clothing and medical care have continued to climb, inflation has eroded the value of the minimum wage by 27 percent. Calculated in 1981 dollars, the minimum wage has slipped in value from $3.35 to $2.45. A congressional task force recently highlighted the sharpness of the decline. In 1978, it found, a person working at the $2.65-per-hour minimum wage could have earned enough money at a full-time, year-round job to keep a family of three out of poverty. By 1986, however, the full-time minimum wage earner would have a yearly paycheck of $6,898 and the three-person family would be more than $2,100 beneath the poverty line of $9,120. In addition, the task force reported that there are 2.1 million full-time minimum wage earners in the United complete personal and business insurance ALICE ANDERSON AGENCY 808-A East 46th P.O. Box 4666, Austin 78765 States who are struggling to support 2.5 million indigent children. Moreover, 40 states automatically disqualify lowearning families from cash assistance when a family member earns more than $7,000. “We’ve got a hell of a perverse incentive to get people to work,” said U.S. Rep. Buddy MacKay, the Florida Democrat who chaired the task force. Economists of the free-market stripe often contend that most low-wage workers are middle-class teenagers living at home. But most low-wage earners are adults. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 1984 there were 20.7 million workers earning less than $4.49 an hour, yet only 4.8 million were teenagers 16 to 19. Marcy Blanchard, an 18-year-old resident of Corchester, Massachusetts, is probably typical of many in this ageand-income group. She works part-time at Warburton’s Bakery in downtown Boston, earning $4.10 an hour serving muffins and coffee. “People aren’t always pleasant,” she says of the job that, nonetheless, allows her to have spending money, save a portion of her earnings and even help out her mother a Boston school bus driver who went out on strike last year. “If I didn’t work,” Blanchard adds, “I would have to ask my mother for money.” Labor expert Levitan argues that it would be a good thing to elevate the wages of this group. “Say Mama makes $16,000,” he says. “If she has to spend money to support an 18-year-old daughter, it reduces very sharply the family’s standard of living.” He adds bitingly: “You’d have to be a college professor to think that a family living on $16,000 a year is rich.” There are ominous signs, meanwhile, that the American economy is becoming more exploitive. Economists Barry Bluestone of the University of Massachusetts Institute of Technology report that 37 percent of all new jobs created between 1978 and 1983 paid less than $8,700. That was a ten percent increase, they said, over comparable low-wage jobs created during the period 1963 to 1978. Similarly, economist Levitan notes that, between 1978 and 1984, the number of full-time minimum-wage earners had grown from 1.4 million to 2.1 million an increase of 60 percent. Despite the bargain-basement wage made possible by slow-but-steady inflation, many employers still try to take unfair advantage of workers. The gov ernment undertook 67,000 compliance actions in 1985 against businesses that violated wage-and-hour laws. The number of compliance actions has risen even though the Labor Department has fewer compliance officers due to budget cuts. “I’ve asked our investigators [about the extent of noncompliance],” says Randy Wilson, a spokesman for the U.S. department of Labor in New York City, “and they just roll their eyes.” Trying to create more jobs by doing away with the minimum wage a course advocated by free-market ideologues would only worsen the situation. Even after four years of economic growth under the free-market philosophies of the Reagan administration, jobless rates are still hovering at the historically high rate of seven percent. The workforce is swollen with undocumented labor from Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and elsewhere at the same time that the nation is experiencing unprecedented plant closings, robotization and weakened unions. The result is an increasingly desperate workforce, herded into service-sector employment, often willing to take any job at any price. This is just the kind of predicament that prompted the nation to enact the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. It established mandatory overtime pay, curbed *hat President Franklin D. Roosevelt termed “the evils of child labor” and set a minimum wage of 25 cents an hour. Since then, the minimum wage was regularly elevated and the law expanded to cover three-fourths of the country’s hourly employees. It is time to call a halt to the Reagan administration’s six-year policy of neglect. The AFL-CIO is pressing Congress to raise the minimum wage to $4.65 immediately and eventually to $5.29, 60 percent of the average manufacturing wage. By permanently pegging the minimum wage to the manufacturing wage under the AFLCIO plan, the nation would reaffirm its commitment to end what FDR decried as “the exploitation of unorganized labor.” There will be some loss of jobs, but history has proven that millions will improve their standard of living and hence the overall economy will improve. Dews, the Tyler nursing home worker, was asked what she would say to her congressman if she had the chance. “I would just tell him I can’t live without other assistance,” she said. “But I would prefer to go it alone.”0 16 AUGUST 28, 1987