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August 21st, 2013
Freethought San Marcos: The March for Jobs and Freedom 50 years later

Freethought San Marcos: A column

August 28, 2013, will mark the 50th anniversary of what is now called “The March on Washington,” but officially named “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”  I was unable to go to Washington, D.C., 50 years ago, but I remember where I was, and the March was certainly on my mind.  A friend and I were on a trip through Houston.  We stopped at a Foley’s store and spent some time in the appliance section watching the March on the televisions displayed.

Another friend I had known in high school was working for a federal agency in D.C. at the time.  He and his fellow employees were sent home for the day (a Wednesday) because the government feared violence, clear evidence of the state of race relations at the time.  My traveling companion and I were pleased to see that the March was as peaceful as its organizers had hoped it would be.

There were stirring speeches by John Lewis, now a Congressman from Georgia, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr.  Others well-known in public life were in attendance or sent their remarks to be read by others.  James Farmer, head of the Congress of Racial Equality, was in jail in Louisiana.  His remarks were read by Floyd McKissick.  Author James Baldwin’s remarks were read by Sidney Poitier.  Others, including labor leader Walter Reuther and actor and singer Josephine Baker gave brief speeches.  A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin played key roles in organizing the march, which was supported by the major civil rights organizations active at that time, as well as the AFL-CIO, and other union and religious groups.

Many musicians and singers performed, including Marian Anderson; Joan Baez; Bob Dylan; Mahalia Jackson; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Odetta; and Josh White.  Actors present included Charlton Heston, Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Diahann Carroll, Ossie Davis, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lena Horne, and Paul Newman, along with comedian Dick Gregory.

What we hear most about the March was the famous “I Have a Dream” speech of Dr. King.  While the speech is clearly worthy of distinction, our memories of the event have shunted aside one of the primary purposes of the march: to push for a $2 per hour minimum wage.
Had that goal been achieved and a $2 minimum wage been passed and indexed for inflation, the minimum wage today would be $15.26 based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator.

It happens that $15.26 is less than what a Living Wage in San Marcos-Austin-Georgetown would be today for one adult supporting one child.  That figure, according to the Living Wage Calculator maintained by MIT, is $19.56 for those living in San Marcos/Hays County, Austin/Travis County, and Georgetown/Williamson County.  The Living Wage Calculator takes into account the following costs:

It uses the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2010 low-cost food plan, with regional adjustments.  A family of four with two adults and two young children is expected to spend about $650 on food, less than $22 a day for the four.

Child care costs are determined from a report, “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care – 2011 Update” published by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.
The cost of healthcare is derived from the “2010 Consumer Expenditure Survey” prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the “2010 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey” published by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Housing costs are from “2010 Fair Market Rents” produced by U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Transportation expenses are from the “2010 Consumer Expenditure Survey.”

Other necessities are derived using regional adjustment factors from the “2010 Consumer Expenditure Survey.”

Tax figures include estimated Federal payroll taxes as well as Federal and State income taxes for the 2011 tax year.

These Living Wage calculations show that we are nowhere close to what an inflation-adjusted minimum wage would be had it been $2 an hour in 1963.  In fact, we are at less than half that amount with a current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.  And President Obama earlier this year, in the face of strong opposition, requested an increase in the federal minimum wage to a pitifully inadequate $9.00 per hour.

These facts about what income can provide a minimal standard of living in the US demonstrates that we have an economic system unwilling to provide Americans with a living wage when left to its own devices.  But, as we are learning from current efforts by workers at fast food restaurants to be paid adequate wages, the companies that own these businesses are raking in plenty of profits from the labor of workers.

These companies could both thrive and allow their workers to live decently.  An undergraduate student at the University of Kansas who researched McDonald’s company-owned stores found that the fast food giant could double all employee salaries by increasing the cost of a Big Mac by 68 cents, without giving up one penny of profits.  And Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, believes that McDonald’s is so large, vast, and lucrative that the company could easily manage a major wage increase for its employees without damaging its profits.

Recently, fast food workers in New York City, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City, and Flint, Michigan, are demanding that they be paid something closer to a living wage and that they be allowed to have the chance to form a union without intimidation by management.  They ask to be paid $15 an hour, just under what the 1963 $2 per hour minimum wage demand would be if adjusted for inflation.  As a result of these recent efforts to obtain fairer pay, work stoppages and walkouts have occurred in fast food restaurants in several cities.  Their efforts are being aided by the Service Employees International Union and could be advanced further if those of us who consume fast food support them.

If consumers respond to the moral issues related to fast food businesses by refusing to patronize fast food restaurants that won’t pay a living wage to their employees, this movement could finally realize a part of King’s dream and a primary objective of the 1963 March on Washington.  Nothing could be a more fitting memorial to the man who was killed while supporting sanitation workers in Memphis, who sought better wages, than for minimum wage workers throughout the country finally to be paid a fair wage that allows them and their families to live adequately.

© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San Marcos

LAMAR W. HANKINS is a former San Marcos city attorney.

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12 thoughts on “Freethought San Marcos: The March for Jobs and Freedom 50 years later

  1. I usually click through reluctantly, but today, I enjoyed the first half of this column. But then came the minimum wage bit, devoid of any sense of economics and advocating a solution that would put more people in poverty. Most of our workers do not have the skills and education to be productive enough to warrant the pay you advocate. If the wage was set at $15, employers would only hire those who were productive enough to warrant that sort of investment. Unemployment would skyrocket and more machines would be cost-effective alternatives to replacing workers.

    You site a study that was totally debunked

    and then retracted

    with the ultimate conclusion that the plan could up to double the price of the Big Mac. But why let the facts stand in the way, right? Just throw it out there like its true and say MLK three times.

  2. I would prefer solutions to improving the strenght of the dollar.
    What difference does it make what they set the minimum wage at, all they do is put the screws to all of us with inflation. In 1995 gas was $ 1.00 a gallon, Milk was 1.99 a gallon.
    Both are alost $4 a gallon now.
    You want to ask for something , ask for a FED that doesnt steal everyones labor so rich people don’t have to Labor.

  3. To skeptical: If you noticed, I referred only to company-owned restaurants. The piece you cite does not thoroughly debunk the corrected Huffington Post article, but only adds further confusion. McDonald’s makes money from many other products, whose prices could also be adjusted slightly to yield the necessary money to double salaries of minimum wage workers. MSN reports that the average price of a Big Mac meal is $4.20. A 68 cent adjustment is far below 26% of its cost.

    There are other examples of small increases in retail prices of products that can make a significant difference to workers. Trader Joe’s and other companies have agreed to pay 1 cent more per pound for tomatoes (if it goes entirely to workers), which will mean a two-thirds increase in what tomato pickers earn. With the help of a tomato grower, I once calculated that he would about an 8% reduction in profits if he doubled the pay of his tomato pickers. He didn’t like the idea, but he would still have had a net profit of nearly $1 million from the operation of his tomato farm.

    To NANNYSTATER: When I was married in 1969, my wife and I paid 26.9 cents a gallon for gas. Based on the CPI, that cost should be $1.72, but I now pay more than twice that amount in spite of the fact there we have an abundance of oil. The manipulation of the market by the oil companies has more to do with the price of gas than does inflation. The US economy has been made immensely more complicated by the internationalization of almost all commerce, so it is difficult to blame one factor for current prices.

    But all of this commentary is off the main point of my column, which is that workers deserve a fairer marketplace in which to work. They don’t have that now, in part because the right of people to bargain collectively for better wages, benefits, and working conditions has been systematically reduced or eliminated for the last 33 years by government policies that belittle and degrade workers in favor of wealthy corporations.

  4. I agree with Lamar. Every time the subject of increasing minimum wage comes up, the well connected jump up screaming that a raise in minimum wage will cause a big hit to employment. That’s BUNK! They also claim that those minimum wage jobs are teenager jobs. That’s also been proven to be BUNK! As a retiree on a very modest budget, my wife and I would be quite happy to pay a bit more for our Big Macs – if the additional cost went to the laborers.

  5. A Google search will turn up plenty of evidence such at this that indicates not many people earn minimum wage. Furthermore, those that do don’t stay there very long. It’s a wage for entry level employees and a way for employers to test the person they hired – a perfectly good apprenticeship program. Furthermore, it’s not McDonald’s obligation or mission to provide careers as burger flippers. To so grossly subvert capitalism is just dangerous. Our culture depends on folks seeking to constantly improve themselves and if the yardstick to that end is wages then so be it. What better yardstick? A “living wage” breeds complacency which is the beginning of the end for any society. What motivation is there to evolve if your wage needs are met in the most menial and restful of jobs and your healthcare is guaranteed? Hardship and discontent are the fuels responsible for some of our greatest achievements, such as The Clapper.

  6. In 2012, 75.3 million workers in the United States age 16 and over were paid at hourly rates. Among those paid by the hour, 3.6 million earned the prevailing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour or less. That’s just 4.7% of our workforce.

    Right at half of all minimum wage earners in America were age 25 and under – students. Take them out of the equation and only 3% of workers ages 25 and above earn minimum wage.

    11% of minimum wage earners above 25 report that they only work part-time. Only 2% of our full-time work force aged 25 or above works in a minimum wage job.

    Even THAT number includes food service professions that are considered “minimum wage” regardless of the number of actual tips being earned. Overall, food service employees account for 3/5 of all minimum wage earners.

    Extrapolating the data will then show that, after setting aside students, part-time employees, and tipped employees, only about 1.2% of our workforce actually works in a minimum wage job.

    All data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012 study.

  7. I believe in the concept of a living wage and the ability to support and provide for yourself and family through hard and consistent work. In my opinion, the concept of working for tips is not a minimum nor a living wage. I do not believe that if someone doesn’t work, he or she shouldn’t eat, have healthcare nor the same basic rights as anyone else. Too often, I have witnessed people building themselves up by putting and keeping other people down. Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” To assume: “A ‘living wage’ breeds complacency which is the beginning of the end for any society. What motivation is there to evolve if your wage needs are met in the most menial and restful of jobs and your healthcare is guaranteed?” seems to demean and dismiss honest work as menial and restful. For the life of me, I can’t think of a minimum wage job that I would label “demeaning and restful.” The rugged individualism of, “We take care of ourselves,” is short-sighted and certainly not Christian.

  8. Now, both MLK and Jesus support Lamar’s column. I don’t think the command was “have your government mandate private citizens to feed my sheep by law or compulsion” but a direction to followers to do so individually and with a joyful heart. I may be with you, Rick, on SMsince95’s use of “restful” but his idea that striving for more money to meet secondary needs empowering folks to greater heights is spot on. If you don’t think people will check out from greater productivity if their needs are met, check out the dangerous swelling in the disability rolls and the corresponding drop in workforce participation.

  9. And in the above two posts we find an excellent summary of the difference between the liberal mindset and that of conservatives.

    All that jazz about social issues like abortion and gay marriage are really just a diversion that, though emotional, is secondary to the real question that drives all of politics – which is “What is the role of government?”

  10. As a young man I worked plenty of minimum wage jobs. None of them ever made me come full-awake at three in the morning sweating over some aspect of that job as I occasionally do in my current, higher paying job. I think that’s part of what I get paid for. In that sense, working at McDonalds is restful. When you walk out the door you’re done. Menial jobs are those that you can walk away from and likely find another, similar job fairly quickly. I don’t demean honest work at all. I would venture to say that if you are in a minimum wage job and you show up on time, work hard and follow the rules you’ll probably get a raise or be promoted pretty quickly.

  11. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, three quarters of minimum wage earners are adults aged 20 or older.

    A report by by the National Employment Law Project, “Big Business, Corporate Profits, and the Minimum Wage,” finds that, contrary to frequent claims, the majority of low-wage workers in the U.S. (66%) work for large corporations with more than 100 employees, rather than for small businesses. This supports the comments by Charlie that a decent minimum wage will have little, if any, effect on the number of jobs because the big employers can easily afford the increased costs.

  12. What “big employers can easily afford…” is absolutely irrelevant. If minimum wage were raised (by mandate) to $15.26 what do you suppose is going to happen to those longer term employees who, by virtue of “hard and consistent work” had passed that $15.26 mark? I promise you the company is going to look to control their labor costs however they can and it will be at least partly at the expense of the rest of their employees who make more than the minimum wage. So the high quality, seasoned employees end up subsidizing (through lower wages) the entry level grunt who has not proved himself. No thanks.

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