The greatest economic injustice in America isn’t corporate malfeasance, anemic job growth or the outsourcing of jobs, as the mainstream media suggests. The biggest scandal is the highway robbery committed against hard-working families who can’t make ends meet despite playing by the rules. While the press has chronicled the crimes of Dennis Koslowski, Martha Stewart and Andrew Fastow, it consistently fails to describe the forces shutting workers out of the broad middle-class.
Upward mobility is one of our democracy’s great strengths. In George Bush’s America, however, opportunity is being steadily eroded. To understand this anti-worker economy, just begin with the minimum wage.
Currently, the federal minimum wage is a paltry $5.15 an hour. It has remained unchanged since 1997. In a family of three, the breadwinner earns $10,712 in annual income, which is almost $5,000 below the federal poverty level. When Washington State raised its minimum wage in 1998 to $7.16 an hour, many full-time workers with families were still living in poverty.
Republicans in Congress couldn’t care less about this crisis. Callous, imperious and anti-worker, the Republican Senate leadership recently refused to even vote on a modest minimum wage increase, which could have helped offset the hardships imposed by declining wages and record job losses. When it comes to the struggle to increase the minimum wage and deal with the crisis of poverty in the US, the Senate has essentially become a “non-functioning institution,” to quote Senator Edward Kennedy.
A second force driving this train are the glaring inequities in America’s tax system–injustices that have further eroded workers’ prospects. David Cay Johnston, who covers the tax system for the New York Times, has demonstrated that in recent decades, a growing portion of the tax burden has shifted to working- and middle-class families while the wealthiest Americans have paid fewer taxes.