Weekend News & Commentary — January 19-20, 2019
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said last week that raising the federal minimum wage to $15/hour would result in job losses around the country, the Wall Street Journal reports. Acosta’s statement came the day after Democrats proposed bills in both houses of Congress to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2024. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour was set in 2009, and is significantly less than the inflation-adjusted minimum wage in 1968. Several studies show Acosta’s statement to be inaccurate or unrepresentative of the wider effects of a minimum wage increase.
Union membership declined over the course of 2018, despite what many have hailed as a flurry of activity by organized labor, the Huffington Post reports. The number of union members dropped from 14.8 million to 14.7 million over the course of the year even as the number of total workers increased; union density as a whole dropped from 10.7 percent to 10.5 percent. The decline is a continuation of a long downward slide from the 1950s when about one-third of the workforce was unionized. Unions remain the strongest in the public sector, at 33.9 percent, although it remains to be seen how Janus v. AFSCME will affect those numbers.
Although many prominent Democrats have come out in support of the L.A. teachers’ strike, opposition to charter schools–one of the strike’s central features–remains a contentious issue among Democrats, the New York Times reports. As the strike continues, there’s “a gladiator fight” ongoing between pro-charter and anti-charter Democrats, according to American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. California teachers unions have won a series of electoral victories against pro-charter Democratic politicians recently, although the unions claim that district officials, mostly Democrats, still favor charters over traditional schools. On the national level, Democratic politicians like Barack Obama and Cory Booker have long championed charter schools, while others have stuck more closely to the union position.
Unpaid federal government workers are turning to pawn shops for short-term loans, the New York Times reports. Workers bring items to pawn shops as collateral for a high-interest loan, which they are expected to pay back in the next few months–or else they forfeit their collateral. Stories of government workers at the pawn shop have surfaced in Billings, MT; Capitol Heights, MD; Alexandria, VA; Las Vegas; and Anchorage, AK; many people in those areas expect the number of pawn shop visits to increase as the shutdown continues.