Robert Reich on Jobs
Former Secretary of Labor; Democratic Challenger MA Governor
A: There’s no question that people are better off than they were in 1992. There are more jobs. People feel a little bit better about their wages and their prospects. But over the long term, a major challenge is to restore not just job growth but also wage growth. Some people say that social mobility is as great than it was in the 1980’s, and that’s simply not true. A lot of evidence points to the fact that it is harder to move upward if you are near the bottom or in the bottom 20% or 30%. [With wages], you’ve got to distinguish between average wages and median wages, because so many people at the top are doing so well, the average is pulled up. You’ve got to look behind averages, and you’ve got to examine what’s happening to the little guy. And in fact, with regard to median wages, we see that median wages, beginning in the late 1970’s, began to decline
A: Wages for Americans in the top 20% of earnings are doing quite well. If you’re in the top 5%, you are doing extremely well. If you’re in the top 1%, you are doing better than the top 1% has done probably in 50 or 60 years. But if you’re in the bottom 20% or 30% or 40%, you’re not doing well. Also in benefits - health benefits, pension benefits. If you’re near the bottom, your benefits are also eroding.
Q: Are CEOs making too much money?
A: It’s not good for a company in terms of its own bottom line to allow too great a gulf to open up between the compensation of the boss at the top and everybody else. The best companies try to encourage a sense of teamwork, of common enterprise, of everybody in the same boat together. You cannot do that if the CEO is earning 140 times what the average worker in that company is earning.
A: We proposed, in January of 1995, an increase in the minimum wage, and we’ve been fighting for that for the last year and three quarters. Hopefully, we will get it because Americans at the bottom, twelve million of them, deserve at least a livable wage.
Q: Critics say many of them will lose jobs because companies can’t afford to pay them the minimum wage.
A: The minimum wage is heading toward a forty year low if you adjust for the real purchasing power of a dollar. Now, in 1938 this country decided we’d have a certain minimum standard in terms of no child labor, minimum wages. We’d have an absolute floor, and we also established some rudiments of health and safety at the workplace. Now, if you believe in those minimum requirements, you’ve got to say to yourself, we’re heading to a forty-year low. We’ve got to at least make sure that people who work full-time don’t live in poverty.
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