Living wage: a right for all Americans


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By Tom Broderick

I grew up in Washington D.C. When I was 11, my mom said we were going to an important event on Aug. 28 — the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This was 1963. It was years before the significance of that day sank in. For me at the time, it was a beautiful summer day and all seemed happy and excited.

Someone handed me a sign to carry. It read, "UAW SAYS: We Are MARCHING FOR FREEDOM — Ours and Yours."

This year is the 50th anniversary of the march and much is being made of it. I just listened to "The Afternoon Shift" on WBEZ radio. Over the course of three days, this program commemorated the march. The first program opened with a portion of Studs Terkel's "This Train" interviews, which he made on his train journey from Chicago to Washington to participate in the march — outstanding oral history where Studs interviewed others on the same journey. Remembrance is vital, but the 1963 march was about making our federal government create and enact policies for economic and racial justice.

It is a crime in this nation to receive starvation wages.

—Martin Luther King Jr.

From the U.S. Census Bureau "2011 American Community Survey on Children in Poverty by Race and Ethnicity," 37% of Native American children live in poverty; 14% of Asian and Pacific Islander children live in poverty; 39% of Black or African-American children live in poverty; 34% of Hispanic or Latino children live in poverty; 14% of Non-Hispanic White children live in poverty; and 24% of children identified as Two or More Races live in poverty.

Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality.

—Martin Luther King Jr.

According to the Urban Institute's "Less Than Equal: Racial Disparities in Wealth Accumulation," the change in average family wealth by race and ethnicity, 2007 to 2010, shows White non-Hispanic families losing 11% of their wealth, Black non-Hispanic families losing 31% of their wealth, and Hispanic families losing 44% of their wealth. The same report shows White non-Hispanic families losing 24% of their home equity, Black non-Hispanic families losing 28% of their home equity, and Hispanic families losing 49% of their home equity.

We know of no more crucial civil rights issue facing Congress today than the need to increase the Federal minimum wage and extend its coverage.

—Martin Luther King Jr.

From the conclusion of the Economic Policy Institute Briefing Paper "A Decade of Flat Wages": "The weak wage growth since 1979 for all but those with the highest wages is the result of intentional policy decisions — including globalization, deregulation, weaker unions [and] a weaker minimum wage."

We need to change policies that drive so many into poverty and desperation, and keep them there.

A living wage should be the right of all working Americans.

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Comment Policy

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: August 30th, 2013 1:02 PM

Jim, there are already restaurants doing just that. A few places now require order to be placed on smart phone, scan phone when you come in to pick up, order is a made. No cashiers. I'm sure the 1 cook or 1 manager makes the $15/hr. Everyone else gets the boot. Be careful what you ask for Libs. Unintended consequences. Tech is there to completely eliminate cashiers especially at places like fast food with simple, numerical menus if costs get out of line.

stay at home mom  

Posted: August 30th, 2013 12:31 PM

Were is my paycheck? If everyone has a right to a living wage then who is responsible for paying me? Who wants to establish a SAHM union? I perform manual labor and menial tasks for no $ on top of volunteering for various community activities. Living wage for all... LOL

Jim from Oak Park  

Posted: August 30th, 2013 11:36 AM

Winners: Those with a work ethic who can gain new skills. Chains will automate to offset labor costs. Think pick-and-place robots on burger lines, or new fry units. Think fewer jobs. A burger flipper becomes a machine operator trained to run sophisticated controls and do minor adjustments. $30K salary is in line with those skills. No socialist utopia that rewards low motivation and low skills. Losers: Maybe small places that can't afford automation; wages may price them out of business.

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: August 30th, 2013 9:38 AM

Minimum wage jobs were never intended for anyone to raise a family on. The problem is not the wage, but that we have a segment of society who can't seem figure out how personal choices can trap you at the bottom of the economic ladder. With that said, I do think it is smart management for companies to pay above prevailing wages for employees as it lower long term costs with lower turnover and training and typically improves service. However, govt shouldn't be mandating wages.

OP Transplant  

Posted: August 30th, 2013 9:28 AM

My concern is not idealogical. I just can't see an outcome where a major increase in MW doesn't end up hurting the very people it's intended to help. It belongs to the "we should print more money" school of economic reform. It's too easy to anticipate the unintended consequences.

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: August 30th, 2013 9:25 AM

The only thing a $15/hr living wage will do is further reduce employment opportunity for the least skilled. If a company is going to have to pay more than the value of the labor as determined by the market, then all they are going to do is hire more experienced workers. Forget getting a job as a teenager or that stepping stone job to get better opportunities. A living wage combined with Obamacare part time jobs... yeah, you lefties are going to own that disaster to the economy.


Posted: August 29th, 2013 10:08 PM

Should be no surprise there are more people like Tom & his fellow socialists here in Oak Park than you would think. The Democratic Party of the past, where there was some common ground between the parties, has morphed over the last 40-50 years into a socialist party led by statists. And then there are those who are seen to unwittingly support these malignant, statist causes through their naive attempts to be a force of good despite the chaos that results from statist policies, blaming all else.

OP Transplant  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 6:24 PM

Assuming that US businesses don't want to see a big drop in profits, the most likely results of a big MW increase are a reduction in jobs and an increase in prices. My job will likely remain secure, and I have sufficient discretionary income that this change shouldn't impact my life too badly. It will be catastrophic, though, to those who earn the least, and who depend on MW jobs. Efforts to screw the rich usually end up screwing the poor.

Voted for it 5 years ago!  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 5:40 PM

John, I'm suggesting that advisory questions should be seen as a guide to where public opinion stands. Elected officials ignore acting on that consensus at their peril. And kudos to Trustee Tucker for agreeing to put this before the Board again soon. This time, I hope the result is finally a Living Wage ordinance on the books. That's the way the democratic process should work.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 5:20 PM

Voted for it 5 years ago! - one person believing they were voting for an Advisory Question is all that is needed for abuse of the intent of the law. The goal is voice of the people. The vote of the people was ADVISORY, period In fact, I voted for the Living Wage Advisory and 14 months later wrote most of the CRC's minority report. The advisory process is to give people a chance to see all sides of the issue. Like I said in my previous post, if the proponents wanted to a vote that made law (ordinances) they should have chosen the Binding Path.

Freakin' Hilarious  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 5:14 PM

And we wonder why Madison is a virtual retail desert given the number of mopes in this town who agree with Socialist Tom and Green Guy Bruce. I won't be here when this town becomes your utopia where the only people left in OP are the rich and the dirt poor the rich are giving handouts (so that the rich feel like they are "doing something").

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 5:12 PM

Bruce, et al. ignoring the completely irrelevant Whiteco snipe, all OP govt bodies work under a prevailing wage ordinance for contractors, rendering a LW "demand" moot. If the goal of the LW "demand" is to further mandate wages to private employers, that's a whole other kettle of stinking filet-o-fish. The point of LW, once more with feeling, is to fill the coffers of the unions. Period. Organized labor, particularly public unions & SEIU, care not a whit about the poor. They care only about $$

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 4:37 PM

If Oak Park can give millions of tax dollars to Mr. White(co), the third richest man in Indiana, to build a monstrosity we should certainly demand that Village contractors pay a living wage to their employees.

OP Res 253 from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 4:17 PM

Oh yes, the sage voices of Oak Park "advisors"--overthrow the Supreme Court on Citizens United, hear us on roar on Fracking...Oak Park ballots are to democracy what The Onion is to media. And yes, the $15 wage earner will get crushed when it ripples through pricing. You know who will do well, every union member whose contract calls for wages at X times the minimum wage. And, of course, folks that need the $8/hr jobs that be eliminated by the employer. You can't bend the supply/demand curves.


Posted: August 29th, 2013 4:14 PM

Demand for pretty much all goods and services is elastic. When the price of something goes up (which happens with increased labor costs), demand for it goes down. A drastic raise in minimum wage will impact the people who need it the most...less opportunity for those trying to gain entry into the workforce. If it were as simple as that, it would have happened long ago. In teh end, free markets reign and typically have the final say in what is deemed a fair wage.

Voted for it 5 years ago!  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 3:45 PM

John, I don't think the 16,144 people in this village who voted yes in 2008 to the referendum did so for theoretical reasons. They want a Living Wage ordinance and expected elected officials to act on it accordingly. To do otherwise breeds distrust. Even with the vaccine can't just ignore a mandate from voters. Unless you're Oak Park. Then it's just one more wacky forum like WJ comments.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 3:36 PM

Voted for it 5 years ago! ?" The Living Wage being ADVISORY is not something to take lightly. The November 2008 election ballot clearly stated that the vote was Advisory. Voters were aware that it was not a final decision. To interpret their vote as a mandate is wrong. Under State of Illinois law, The Living Wage has a choice of two types of referendum (called in Illinois "questions of public policy"). The first is a Binding Question. That requires signatures from residents with the number determined by the responsible government body." The proponents chose not to use a Binding Question. When the advisory was passed, the proponents asked the board to vote on a village ordinance. Not having any foundation for a vote on an ordinance, the board appropriately referred to the Community Relation Commission (CRC). The instruction from the board to the commission was to research and write a Thorough and Objective Report. The commission met for 14 months without agreeing on a single report. As a result, a majority report (in favor of Living Wage) and a minority report (opposed) were written. The two reports were sent to the board for their discussion. It should be noted that the board encourages minority reports to ensure that all commissioner viewpoints are heard. Also; Important to remember is that the CRC does not have a vote for an ordinance. Its vote is for the content of the report(s) only. In fact, the handling of the Living Wage Question of Policy from the resident election vote to the board vote was done in a manner that is a tribute to the village's democratic process.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 3:33 PM

And at some point - and I feel that that point is coming very soon - the taxpayers are about done giving the handouts. I have a hard enough time paying my own bills than to help everyone else pay theirs, no matter how much in OP we like to spew the "Let's help everyone and do the right thing" crap.

Ned Ryerson from River Forest, Illinois  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 3:33 PM

Let's all agree on one thing; Tom is pedantic in his comments. The WJ should charge him to publish his strange essays about misguided economic theories.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 3:30 PM

rj - well said. There are plenty of avenues available to further education in order to improve your earning potential. To say that there aren't is to give up. That being said, there are all sorts of tax dollars going to enhance income to those who only make minimum wage or slightly above in the form of food stamps and other cash subsidies. It is hard to believe that there is no incentive to improve one's lot in life, no matter your race - but if the government gives, the populace will take.

OP Transplant  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 3:02 PM

Does anyone imagine that if minimum wage is raised to $15/hr., prices won't go up across the board on goods and services? Don't those price increases hurt the lowest wage earners the most? Unintended consequences have brutalized the most financially vulnerable for generations.


Posted: August 29th, 2013 1:34 PM

Common ground has long been lost. You lefties that can't wait for amnesty to pass will soon learn that these same low wage jobs will be scooped up by people willing to work for even less. There's no such thing as a 'living wage'. If you can't live on a wage go learn a trade, improve your education, become an entrepreneur. If McDonalds is your glass ceiling you deserve whatever that market will bear & no more. In the end it's all about votes & redistribution of your wealth - socialism.

It's not about wages  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 1:13 PM

Continued: "In 2008, 77% of young children in single-mother families were poor or low income." Source:

It's not about wages  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 1:06 PM

Some more numbers: "16% of white children live in single-mother families, compared with 27% of Latino children and 52% of African American children. Researchers have identified the rise in single-parent families (especially mother-child families) as a major factor driving the long-term increase in child poverty in the United States. Most single-mother families have limited financial resources available to cover children's education, child care, and health care costs."

OP Res 253 from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 12:24 PM

I do not think that there is support to increase expenditures or reduce services because every contractor who waters parkways, fills potholes, or makes deliveries must earn more than many of us. Scooping popcorn at Lake is not supposed to support a family. Nor is lawn moving, sidewalk shoveling, or photocopying. These ballot questions are not "advisory" AT ALL- they are leading questions designed by partisan kooks. Remember Mullarkey trying to discourage vaccination of our young?

Voted for it 5 years ago!   

Posted: August 29th, 2013 12:11 PM

The Living Wage referendum passed with over 60% of the the vote in 2008. Out of nearly 27,000 voters, it won by nearly 5,500 votes. The real question here is when the Board will listen to the voters of OP and get this passed. It's now 5 years later. I know they're just "advisory" questions, but come on. Clearly there is public support. Do it.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 11:38 AM

WEDNESDAY JOURNAL JULY 13, 2010 The Oak Park Board of Trustees voted against a Living Wage Ordinance on July 6, 2019. Four trustees Jon Hale, John Hedges, Jan Pate, Ray Johnson - voted to receive the CRC Community Relations Commission 's report but to REJECT ITS RECOMMENDATION. That left Pope and two trustees - Glenn Brewer and Colette Lueck - voting to receive the report while expressing an openness to further discussion. The following day, President Pope stated, "there was not much of a difference of opinion between the four and the three" voting blocks. He said the issue was now dead." At the Anan/Tucker Forum last night, a Living Wage proponent asked the moderators when the Living Wage would be brought back to the board. The response by Trustee Tucker was that the board would attempt to bring back the issue in September 2013. WHY?


Posted: August 29th, 2013 11:36 AM

If the WJ had a policy against repetitive commentary, 99% of the people who comment on this forum would be banned. Everything is so partisan all the time! No one seems capable of having a thoughtful discussion any more without comment bullies taking over. OK, now I'm sure you'll rant at me, too.

OP Res 253 from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 9:46 AM

I agree. I have been listening to the voices of people struggling to subsist on a "fries with that?" job, and want to scream "you are not supposed to!". Go to college before you get married. Get married before you have kids. Learn the work ethic all the way through on the fry line, and succeed. That's what we WERE supposed to do. At $15/hour, all sorts of subsidies and now exchanges, why should anyone bother? We are de-incentivizing hard work, delayed gratification & personal bests.


Posted: August 29th, 2013 9:36 AM

The problem is that these "low paying" jobs were meant to be starting points to enter the labor force (typically teenagers or similar folks with no experience) or were supplemental/part-time jobs for spouses to get medical coverage. From there it was up to the individual to prove themselves and advance through experience, further education, etc. Now, folks are using these jobs as a primary source of income to raise families. For these living wage folks to see the problem,they need to look inward

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 8:55 AM

Once more, Mr Broderick of the Democratic Socialists of OP gets to spew his nonsense. Does the WJ have a policy against boring, repetitive commentary? The "living wage" movement is nothing but a cynical attempt to prop up an obsolete private union model, & reinforce public union monopolies. It has nothing at all to do with policies that would actually improve the economy & help grow the middle class. It's tragic how African-American wealth has declined enormously under Obama Socialism Lite.

joe from south oak park  

Posted: August 29th, 2013 7:13 AM

what about folks working in jobs that are not designed to produce a living wage. I worked a number of jobs in high school that did not and should not have produced a wage that is 'livable'. They simply provided a supplementary income for a student.

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