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Why Labor Day matters: We still don’t have a living wage, sick time, or much else here in Florida

August 29, 2014
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10nd-living-wage-600x347As we all prepare our vodka-melon balls and pour oil into our Jet-Skis and make certain three days are three VERY IMPORTANT DAYS for the maintenance of our personal well beings, it’s important to note that you wouldn’t have weekends, or a lack of unfair child labor or even a solid minimum wage (not to mention benefits, rights, etc.) if those who came before us didn’t FIGHT to make life a livable thing, while still including the fact that we should all work to do our part. We’re not on a socialist soapbox here (though, surely some of you will think so — and have in the past), but sustaining a society isn’t all Jesus and roses and city council meetings, you know? Anyway, at the risk of ruining your pool party, here is a brief history of Labor Day from the internetz.

And here is a song:

Yes, we’re mentioning unions. Which, even in this right-to-work state, are doing as much as possible to hold your employer to some standard, even if that employer is making you operate more like an automaton than you are comfortable with being. Why? Because, in Florida (and many other places, actually), people can’t feed their families of the pittance tossed their way by fatcat employers spending money to block things like sick time, or, basically any regulation of employee benefits in the private sector.

This is important – at least to us – because yesterday, amid our own distraction by the political “unity” parade being held by Democrats locally, or even the on-again-off-again gay marriage salvos crowding newsfeeds today, or the technicalities of the ongoing (and important) redistricting suit to block gerrymandering because you voted for that a couple years back, we sat in on a conference call with organizers interested in keeping the living wage question open. We could easily summarize by saying, “Oh, shit! Nobody here makes enough money to live on.” Instead, we’ll show you the thoughts of some people living that reality, or at least working to change it.

Good morning, I’m Allyson Fredericksen, Policy Associate with Alliance for a Just Society.

Across the country, families are finding that the amount they need to earn to make ends meet — or a living wage — far exceeds minimum-wage incomes. And, when you factor in the debt loads many households face, it is clear that our nation’s families are falling short of meeting their basic needs. This is certainly true in Florida.

Our report shows that the living wage in Florida for a single adult is $16.98 per hour. This reflects what is needed to meet basic needs and maintain some ability to deal with emergencies and plan ahead. The living wage for a single adult with two children is $30.43 per hour.

For workers saddled with debt, the wage to pay off that debt would be even greater than the calculated living wage. Students in Florida graduate with $22,873 in student loans, and the average credit card holder in the state has an outstanding debt of $4,965.65. Because the state has not expanded access to health care under Medicaid, nearly 850,000 lower-income workers remain uninsured. Additionally, more than 42 percent of mortgages in the state are underwater.

The minimum wage in Florida does not allow working families to make ends meet. The state’s 2013 minimum wage provided less than half of a living wage for a single adult and only a quarter of the living wage for a single adult with two children. Even the 2014 minimum wage of $7.93 falls well short of allowing workers to move beyond living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Our report makes a number of policy recommendations to address the wage gap, including raising the federal minimum wage to a true livable wage, abolishing the federal tipped minimum wage, reinvesting in higher education, regulating payday lending, expanding Medicaid eligibility and more.

And here was another:

Good morning. My name is Ashley Rogers. I’m a single mother of three, ages 6, 8, and 9. I attended a year of college, studying criminal defense, but I left school when I had my first child and worked restaurant jobs, did call center work and worked as an assistant manager for an apartment complex to make ends meet.

Now I work for a bank as a customer service representative. I was working full-time, earning between $29,000 and $32,000 a year. Then, my daughter came down with a virus that required a visit to the emergency room. The next day, I came down with the same sickness and also had to go to the emergency room. My kids come first, so I took several days off for us all to get better.

I had been on unpaid, job-protected leave before, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, to take care of my son, who has a mental illness. But this didn’t cover myself or my daughter, so I couldn’t use it when I needed to take time off to recover from this virus.

At the same time, my employer was laying off workers and opening more branches overseas. I was forced to adjust to working just part-time. Now I’m earning between $15,000 and $17,000 per year and we’re falling behind. I’m devastated by this loss of income and it’s having big impacts on my family. It’s unjust that companies as large as Suntrust would not offer more to their employees in situations like these. When companies only care about making money, workers like me with young families pay the price.

I’ve always lived paycheck-to-paycheck, but, before these cuts, I knew what was coming in and knew how to make ends meet. Now, we’ve had to make cutbacks. We downsized our Internet package, we turned off the cable, we adjusted our water bill, and rely on a family member to cover our power bill. We canceled our YMCA membership, which was really painful, because it was such a positive space for my kids to play and for me to exercise. I can’t afford to give my kids the things they want, and they don’t understand that I just don’t have the money. Luckily my daughters got a scholarship to continue dance classes at our church.

When my hours got cut back, I called places that help families in need, but either all of the appointments were filled or there was no funding. Now we’re behind on our power bills, water bills, and rent, and I don’t know where that money will be coming from.

I know there are people in worse situations than me and, as long as my kids have a roof over their head, food in their bellies, and light and power in the house — and I know I’m doing everything that I can — we’re going to be OK.

FOOD IN THEIR BELLIES, PEOPLE. What’s it going to take for others to start realizing this new caste system of serfs and servers? We don’t know. But for now the news is depressing. Below is the press release from Organize Now and the Alliance for a Just Society about how important having people be able to stay alive is. Within there, you’ll find a link to their latest report that says (not including college debt) a single person needs about $17 an hour to survive in these times. You wonder why people are fighting for a $15 minimum wage? So their friends can live. Happy Labor Day, brothers and sisters.

ORLANDO – Working families are out of balance – costs are climbing and paychecks are shrinking. Workers who don’t earn a living wage can’t make ends meet. On top of that, many are struggling with deep debt, especially student loan and medical debt.

“The sobering numbers in this report illustrate why lawmakers must look at raising the minimum wage, enacting basic workplace standards like Earned Sick Time, and other measures must be taken to help families out of debt,” said Stephanie Porta of Organize Now.

“Families Out of Balance” is the first report in the 2014 Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series, produced by the Alliance for a Just Society. The report, released today in partnership with Organize Now shows that a living wage in Florida ranges from $16.98 per hour for a single adult to $30.43 for a single adult with two children.

Nationally, the report reveals a shocking disproportionality in the burden of debt shouldered by low-income families, compared to wealthier families. The Alliance has produced the Job Gap Study on jobs and wages since 1999.

Yet, despite having far less income for each dollar of debt, our study shows that 89 percent of low-income families prioritize making debt payments on time – sometimes going without food, heat or other basic necessities.

Meanwhile, the minimum wage in Florida is now $7.93. As a result, even full-time workers can’t make ends meet, much less save for the future or for emergencies.

Our report looks at five household types in Florida. There is also a national report and data for other states and counties. It’s available at thejobgap.org.

A living wage is the hourly pay needed to cover the cost of housing, food, utilities and other expenses, including modest savings.

“As the numbers in this report show, a $16.98 minimum wage proposal for Florida is the bare minimum. Working families in our state deserve more,” said Porta.

In addition, research in “Families Out of Balance” will be critical as policy makers debate minimum wage increases. While Seattle recently set the bar with a $15 minimum wage, others, including the federal government, haven’t kept up.  The national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, unchanged since 2009.

Our study finds that even $15 an hour doesn’t cover the true cost of living. In the 10 states studied for the report, that amount would only meet the living needs of a single adult (without children) in two states: Idaho and Montana.

“It’s outrageous that our nation’s leaders have failed to increase the federal minimum wage for five years. They are failing our families, and they are creating an economic and social disaster,” said LeeAnn Hall, executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society. “Lifting the minimum wage to a true living wage is the first step to giving all families a level playing field,” she said.

“When my hours got cut back, I called places that help families in need, but either all of the appointments were filled or there was no funding,” said Ashley Rogers of Orlando, featured in the report. “Now we’re behind on our power bills, water bills, and rent, and I don’t know where that money will be coming from.”

We are happy to help you contact Ashley Rogers or other families willing to share their stories on trying to make ends meet and pay their bills on less than a living wage.

The Alliance for a Just Society and Organize Now call on Florida leaders to take action now to create real economic stability for working families. We recommend these policy changes:

  • Increase the federal minimum wage
  • Abolish the federal tipped minimum wage
  • Reinvest in higher education
  • Address medical debt acquired before the Affordable Care Act
  • Expand Medicaid eligibility
  • Regulate payday lending

Earned Sick Time is another important policy approach that is not only good for workers; it’s good for businesses. Businesses with Earned Sick Time policies see savings from workforce stability, increased productivity, and lower health care costs. And yet, despite the benefits of Earned Sick Time, the 2013 Florida Legislature passed a bill to prevent local ordinances that allow families to earn sick leave. This rendered an August 26 vote in Orange County moot even though 63% of voters were in favor of sick time standards. This “preemption” prevents local communities that care about the health and safety of workers and of customers from implementing a much-needed solution, leaving more workers to choose between staying home to recover from an illness or keeping their jobs.

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Organize Now is a progressive, community-based organization engaged in and committed to building power to effect change in times of injustice, maintain and protect our existing rights in the state of Florida whenever and wherever injustices are being committed or civil rights are being infringed upon.

Alliance for a Just Society is a national research, policy, and organizing network that advocates locally and nationally for economic and social equity.

 

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