Monday, September 6


Beth Shulman's response to Alan Greenspan's remarks that growing pay inequality and wage sluggishness is due to too many workers lacking skills:

A key to turning this around is understanding what made "good jobs" good. There is nothing inherent in welding bumpers onto cars or manufacturing steel girders that makes those better jobs than caring for children or guarding office buildings. Workers organizing through unions, and the passage of social legislation, raised wages and created paid leave and health and retirement benefits in these initially "bad" manufacturing jobs, changing them into good middle-class positions.

Fortunately, we can make choices as a society to make today's "bad" jobs "good" ones.

First, we can raise the minimum wage. Its earning power has not kept up with inflation. Frozen at $5.15 an hour since 1997, its value is 30 percent less today than in 1968, leaving millions of workers and their families well below the federal poverty line.

Second, we can clear the way for workers to unionize. Recent Labor Department statistics show that, on average, unionized service jobs pay nearly twice as much as nonunion service jobs. Compare the same positions in hotel-casinos in Reno and Las Vegas. They vary by more than $5 an hour, depending not on the skills of those who hold them but on whether they are unionized.

Third, we can reward businesses that provide their employees a living wage and basic benefits by offering taxpayer subsidies, contracts or grants.

Finally, we can provide access to health insurance for all Americans. Workers in the growing low-wage service sector are the least likely to get health insurance from their employers.

As a nation, we can decide to ensure that the people who protect and help our families can support themselves and their loved ones by making service jobs the good jobs of the 21st century. We must not simply label certain jobs "unskilled" and sentence a quarter of our population to a life of poverty just for doing their jobs.


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