AuthorJaffe, Sarah

I still remember watching Pamela Flood dance on that first picket line, way back in November 2012. I have pictures of her with her fuschia-dyed hair, leading the charge and telling her story to the gathered crowd the very first time fast food workers in the United States struck for $15 an hour and a union.

Outside a Wendy's on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, she told the crowd that, because of low wages, she and her three children had wound up homeless.

The thing about Flood that sticks with me, though, is her declaration: "My kids deserve better! I'm tired of $7.25.1 want that $15 so I can sit and relax and decide to go on vacation." After all, if it was good enough for her boss, why not for her?

At a rally later that day in Times Square, she added, "I've been working fast food since I was sixteen." At twenty-two, she was still making $7.25. She led the crowd in a chant of "I made a change! I'm not settling for less!"

New York City raised its minimum wage in 2016, after four years of strikes and rallies by those same workers; the wage was raised incrementally across the state until it hit $15 in 2019. Restaurants, contra the doom-and-gloom predictions, didn't disappear. (It's COVID-19 that's given many of them a death blow.) But the national minimum wage is still stuck at $7.25 an hour, where it's been since 2009, the longest period without a hike since the minimum wage was enacted in 1938.

And if the still-powerful Senate minority has its way, there it will stay, despite the action, demands, and at times desperation of thousands of workers like Pamela Flood.

In the ensuing nearly twelve years since minimum wage workers got a federally mandated raise, the value of $7.25 has eroded badly. A 2019 estimate by the Economic Policy Institute figures that the minimum wage was worth 17 percent less that year than it was when it was last increased--meaning a pay cut of more than $3,000 for Pamela Flood and others like her.

And it's worth more than 30 percent less than the real value of the minimum wage at its peak, in 1968. Not coincidentally, shortly after that peak moment, workers' incomes and productivity increases diverged, and haven't reconnected. As another EPI study noted, "Since 1973, hourly compensation of the vast majority of American workers has not risen in line with economy-wide productivity. In fact, hourly compensation has almost stopped rising at all."

Bosses aren't giving raises, and neither is the federal government. Instead, we are...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT