Tag Archives: earnings

AFT: Labor unions and shared prosperity

On the occasion of Labor Day, a message from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten on the importance of the labor movement to American workers and communities:

Today is Labor Day—and there’s a good reason it’s a national holiday. By organizing together and fighting collectively, workers have been able to better their lives and the lives of their families. So rather than think about Labor Day as the last gasp of summer or bemoan the loss of union clout, let’s redouble our efforts to re-create an enduring middle class.

Income and wealth inequality rivals levels last seen in the Gilded Age. The American dream has slipped away from those who are working hard to make it. And rather than confronting these realities, many — particularly on the right — turned to union bashing and restricting labor rights that rendered people powerless to address inequities. The result: stagnating wages and stifled hopes for men and women who worked hard and played by the rules.

But we continue to fight — to fight for higher wages, fair contracts, professional development, safety measures, and resources for our members and their students, their patients and the others they serve.

America’s educators, healthcare professionals and public service workers know this firsthand. After the Great Recession, some on the right seized the political moment to vilify teachers and assault the labor movement that gives them a voice. In the aftermath, a study by a University of Utah economist showed that, in the four states that successfully weakened teachers’ right to bargain together, public school teachers’ wages fell by nearly one-tenth. That’s a statistic we as educators and public servants simply cannot afford.

Conversely, robust unions help everyone — not just the people who form them—and a growing body of research demonstrates that. There’s a multiplier effect. Through unions, we lift up our communities, strengthen the economy and deepen our democracy. If unions were as strong today as in 1979, according to a timely new study by the Economic Policy Institute, nonunion men with a high school diploma would earn an average of $3,016 more a year. And the Center for American Progress has found that kids who live in communities where unions are strong have a better chance to get ahead.

Workers in unions earn, on average, 27 percent more than their nonunion counterparts. The National Women’s Law Center has found that unions close the pay gap for women, and the Center for Economic and Policy Research has found that black workers see outsized gains from union representation. It’s a powerful reminder of the link between organized labor and economic success.

You see the union advantage in our advocacy as well. When the recession devastated the construction sector and put millions of Americans out of work, the American labor movement came together with the goal of raising $10 billion to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Five years later, our pension funds have reallocated $16 billion for infrastructure investments, including rehabilitating New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, turning it into a travel hub befitting a great modern city and creating good American jobs in the process.

In hospitals and patient care settings across the country, our members have been leading the fight against workplace violence.

And in the classroom, unions are critical partners in giving kids the chance to succeed. A 2016 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that where teachers unions are strong, districts have a better track record of building the quality of our teaching force — keeping stronger teachers and dismissing those who are not making the grade. Through unions, teachers fight for the tools, time and trust that educators need to tailor instruction to the needs of our children, to help them reach for and achieve their dreams.

Here at the AFT, we take that work seriously—for example, curating Share My Lesson, a free digital collection of lesson plans and resources for educators used by nearly a million people. In fact, Share My Lesson has more than 750 lessons about Labor Day!

Despite years of right-wing attacks on unions, a 2015 survey found that a majority of Americans would join a union if they had the choice. They know what a union offers: a voice in their workplace, the opportunity to negotiate wages and benefits and the ability to retire with dignity and security.

Indeed, despite all the attacks waged against us, the AFT—which celebrated our 100th anniversary at our national convention this summer—has grown over the past several years, with well over 1.6 million K-12 and higher education educators and staff, state and local employees, and nurses and other healthcare professionals as members. And now we are seeing more vulnerable workers — such as adjunct faculty and graduate students, teachers at charter schools and early childhood educators—seeking to join our ranks. In the private sector, tens of thousands of low-income workers have joined the Fight for 15 and the union movement because they know a union will help them get long-denied wage increases.

We have taken on the fight for adjuncts and early childhood educators from Pennsylvania to California — many of whom work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. These are the people who teach our youngest children, and they’re the ones who educate our college students; they deserve to live above the poverty line while doing this critical work.

Graduate students at Cornell University are celebrating the recent National Labor Relations Board decision that reinstates the right of graduate workers at private universities to organize. They are building momentum and talking to hundreds of fellow grad students about the power of collective bargaining, and are excited about the prospect of winning union recognition and joining more than 25,000 AFT graduate employees at public institutions who already enjoy the benefits of a contract.

The aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II led our country to understand we were all in it together. We established the GI Bill and other educational access and equity programs; management and labor respected each other, with unions being the voice of labor; and the middle class thrived.

Now, as income inequality is again at its height, let’s remember on this Labor Day what a strong labor movement has done—and can do again—to help workers, our communities, the economy and our democracy grow and thrive.

Same work is worth the same wage

April 12 was Equal Pay Day, a day to reflect on the appalling fact that in Wisconsin women earn 79 cents for each dollar men earn when working the same job. Equal Pay Day is the day when the average woman’s earnings for that year plus the prior year equal those of a male counterpart’s earnings for the prior year alone.

The pay gap between women and men has been shown to be a constant issue regardless of the educational level of the workers. Since the initiation of the Fair Pay Act of 1963, there has been a continual decrease in the pay gap. However, the pace is so slow that wage parity will not be reached until 2133.

The pay gap for women of color is even wider. For every dollar earned by a white man, Asian women are paid 65 cents, African-American women are paid 61 cents and Hispanic women are paid a mere 53 cents.

Nearly half of Wisconsin households are headed by women, 31 percent of which exist below the poverty line.

In 2009, Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act took effect, increasing access for women to press charges when their rights were violated. Within one year of the law’s inception, Wisconsin jumped up 12 places from 36th to 24th in the nation’s gender/wage parity rankings. Additionally, hardworking Wisconsin women saw their median earnings rise 3 percent.

Despite these accomplishments, just a few years later every Republican legislator in Wisconsin voted to repeal the Equal Pay Enforcement Act. Every Democratic legislator in the state voted against the repeal, but they were outnumbered and Gov. Scott Walker signed the repeal into law.

Earlier this session, I co-sponsored Senate Bill 145, which would have reinstated Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act. It defies logic that the Republican-led Legislature failed to pass this bill before session ended — without even giving it a public hearing — when the wage gap results in Wisconsin women earning an average of $10,000 less per year than their male peers.

By ignoring this issue, Wisconsin’s economy is deprived of an additional $8 billion annually in consumer spending. My Democratic colleagues and I will continue to fight for what is right and fair, including bringing back the Equal Pay Enforcement Act, and doing more to close the wage gap for good. Wisconsin families and our economy depend on it.

Rep. Jonathan Brostoff is a Milwaukee Democrat who represents the 19th Assembly District.

Census data: Wisconsin incomes fell between 2009 and 2014

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the median household income fell in two-thirds of Wisconsin counties between 2009 and 2014.

Census data released in early December shows incomes fell by at least 10 percent in 10 counties. Vilas County saw the steepest decline at 13.3 percent.

Milwaukee County saw a 10.3 percent drop and Dane County saw a 5.2 percent drop. Incomes rose in Adams and Florence and held relatively steady in 23 counties.

The declines in Wisconsin mirror the United States as a whole. Median income fell by 7.5 percent in the U.S. after adjusting for inflation.

Tim Smeeding, professor of public affairs and economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the drop in income figures in Wisconsin show the effect of the recession on the state’s manufacturing sector. Smeeding, who authors the annual Wisconsin Poverty Report, said the data also show the middle class is struggling.

“The people who got hurt were the people who could walk out of high school and earn a middle-class living,” Smeeding said. “Now, all that’s disappeared.”

Wells Fargo Funds Management strategist Brian Jacobsen said the figures aren’t surprising given the nation’s slow economic recovery.

“It’s been such a weak economic recovery,” said Jacobsen, who also teaches financial planning at Wisconsin Lutheran College. “Up to this point, it seemed like median incomes were at best keeping up with inflation.”

The statewide median income did rise from $51,598 in 2010 to $52,738 in 2014. Incomes in Vilas, Milwaukee and Dane counties rose over that four-year span, too.

Wisconsin poverty rate up from 2007, median income down

Nearly a quarter of a million Wisconsin children lived below the poverty line in 2014, according to new census data released in September.

The state poverty rate was 10.8 percent in 2007, but rose to 13.2 percent last year. About 738,000 people in the state were living in poverty in 2014, 150,000 more than in 2007.

Other numbers indicate the economic recovery since the recession has boosted incomes for wealthier Wisconsinites but the rest have not seen much increase in incomes — if any — since before 2007. The median income for Wisconsin households in 2014 was $56,622, more than $5,000 less than in 2007.

Taking race into consideration, the income disparities are extreme. The poverty rate for people who identified as black or African-American was 37.7 percent in 2014 compared to 9.6 among white non-Hispanic Wisconsinites. The poverty rate for black children was 49.4 percent, four times the rate of white non-Hispanic children.

And the median income for African-American households was $26,100 in 2014, less than half the $56,100 earned by white non-Hispanic households, according to an analysis of the census data by the nonprofit Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

“Wisconsin simply can’t accept three quarters of a million Wisconsinites living in poverty as the ‘new normal,’” said Ken Taylor, executive director of the WCCF. “The economy isn’t working for everyone, resulting in too many families not making ends meet. We need to make sure everyone has the opportunity to climb the economic ladder and build a secure future.”

WCCF’s recommendations to decrease the poverty rate include a hike in the minimum wage along with cost-of-living adjustments, reversal of the 2011 cuts to the state earned income tax credit for low-income families and an expansion of BadgerCare to cover all adults up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. “No policymaker who claims to care about Wisconsin’s future can justify ignoring poverty,” Taylor said in a news statement. “We’re all in this together. If Wisconsin is going to thrive, everyone needs a shot at opportunity.”

The new data showed the national poverty rate at 15.5 percent in 2014, down slightly from 15.8 percent in 2013.

The census bureau released the information about two weeks before the U.S. visit of Pope Francis, who has prioritized addressing poverty and income inequality.

Francis, who met with President Barack Obama at the White House and delivered a speech before a joint session of Congress, addressed the U.N. General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 25. 

He referred frequently to the poor and linked extreme poverty to the overconsumption and waste that is wrecking the planet. “Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment,” Francis said. “The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing culture of waste.”

Two days later, in his address to the General Assembly, President Barack Obama committed the United States to the U.N.’s new goals for eliminating poverty and hunger by 2030. 

Commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, Obama said, is “not charity but instead is one of the smartest investments we can make in our own future.”

The goals include eradicating extreme poverty, expanding peace and good governance, combating inequality and discrimination, raising living standards and quelling climate change.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said “further progress will require an unswerving political will and collective, long-term effort. We need to tackle root causes and do more to integrate the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.”

Minnesota offers region’s highest minimum wage

Minnesota this week vaults past Illinois, Michigan and South Dakota to gain the highest minimum wage in the Midwestern region at $9 an hour, which also will rank among the most-generous state wage floors in the country.

The dollar-per-hour bump taking effect on Aug. 1 for some 288,000 of Minnesota’s lowest-paid workers is the second of a three-stage increase adopted in 2014, when the state had one of the lowest minimum wages in the region. Next August, the wage will rise again to $9.50 and it will go up automatically with inflation in following years.

For now, this step gives Minnesota the highest minimum wage of any state away from the east or west coasts. The next closest in the region are South Dakota’s $8.50, Illinois’ $8.25 and Michigan’s $8.15.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat who signed the new wage law last year, said Monday the higher wage is about “allowing people to earn a better living through their work. We’re not talking about handouts here. We’re talking about rewarding people who work with a better income, which makes them better citizens.”

Someone working full time at the minimum wage could earn $2,000 more per year, but Dayton said their overall income would still leave them too close to the federal poverty line.

“People aren’t flying out to New York to spend this money. They’re spending it in their local economy,” Dayton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “That’s what drives our economy forward. It’s not trickle-down economics. It’s consumer spending.”

Dan McElroy, who leads the restaurant and lodging trade group Hospitality Minnesota, said consecutive years with steep minimum wage increases has forced businesses to adjust with big spikes to labor costs. Minnesota’s minimum wage before the 2014 law had been $6.15 per hour, although most employers with those workers had to comply with a $7.25 federal minimum.

To compensate, McElroy said some restaurants have introduced technology that allows servers to handle more tables or customers order at tables through tablets. Others have shortened service hours, he said. One border-town cafe owner gained widespread attention for tacking a 35-cent minimum wage fee onto customer tabs.

“It has had challenges, and they’re frustrating but they’re not dire,” McElroy said. “We will know more when we see how many fewer jobs we have per establishment. But those things take time to happen.”

Small Minnesota employers – those with annual gross revenue below $500,000 – still will be permitted to pay workers less, with their minimum wage matching the federal minimum. Businesses can also pay trainees at the lower rate for 90 days, and teens can be paid less, too.

Washington and Oregon currently have the nation’s highest minimum wages at $9.47 and $9.25 per hour, with five others at or just above $9. The wages in California and Massachusetts will rise to $10 per hour in January.

Minnesota’s latest increase leaves a wider gap between its wage floor and that of neighboring Wisconsin.

Wisconsin state Sen. Jennifer Shilling, a Democrat whose district is just across the Mississippi River from Minnesota, bemoaned the lack of interest from Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans in Madison to raise that state’s $7.25 per hour minimum wage.

“While states like Minnesota are raising family wages and growing their middle class, Republicans in Wisconsin have taken our state in the opposite direction,” Shilling said in an email. “Despite the national economic recovery, working families in Wisconsin continue to struggle as a result of declining wages, a shrinking middle class and massive cuts to schools and local communities.”

When Walker announced his presidential campaign two weeks ago, he ridiculed Democrats pushing for minimum-wage increases.

“The left claims they’re for American workers, and they’ve got lame ideas, things like minimum wage,” Walker told Fox News in an interview. “We need to talk about how we get people skills and qualifications they need to get jobs that go beyond minimum wage.”

Elizabeth Warren: America’s middle class is in deep trouble

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., addressed the AFL-CIO National Summit on Raising Wages earlier this week.

Here is the text of Senator Warren’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Good morning, and thank you MaryBe for the introduction, and for your work with the North Carolina AFL-CIO. Your efforts make a real difference for our families.

I want to start by thanking Rich Trumka and Damon Silvers for your leadership on economic issues, for your good counsel, and, for a long time now, your friendship. I also want to give special thanks to my good friends from the Massachusetts AFL-CIO who are here today, Steve Tolman and Lou Mandarini.

I love being with my labor friends, and I’m especially glad to join you today for the AFL’s first-ever National Summit on Wages.  You follow in the best tradition of the American labor movement for more than a century-always fighting for working people, both union and non-union.  Today you’ve spotlighted an economic issue that is central to understanding what’s happening to people all over this country.

I recently read an article in Politico called “Everything is Awesome.” The article detailed the good news about the economy: 5 percent GDP growth in the third quarter of 2014, unemployment under 6 percent, a new all-time high for the Dow, low inflation.

Despite the headline, the author recognized that not everything is awesome, but his point has been repeated several times:  On many different statistical measures, the economy has improved and is continuing to improve. I think the President and his team deserve credit for the steps they’ve taken to get us here. In particular, job growth is a big deal, and we celebrate it.

I’ve spent most of my career studying what’s happening to America’s middle class, and I know that these four widely-cited statistics give an important snapshot of the success of the overall economy. But the overall picture doesn’t tell us much about what’s happening at ground level to tens of millions of Americans.  Despite these cheery numbers, America’s middle class is in deep trouble.

Think about it this way:  The stock market is soaring, and that’s great if you have a pension or money in a mutual fund. But if you and your husband or wife are both working full time, with kids in school, and you are among the half or so of all Americans who don’t have any money in stocks, how does a booming stock market help you? 

Corporate profits and GDP are up. But if you work at Walmart, and you are paid so little that you still need food stamps to put groceries on the table, what does more money in stockholders’ pockets and an uptick in GDP do for you? 

Unemployment numbers are dropping. But if you’ve got a part-time job and still can’t find full-time work — or if you’ve just given up because you can’t find a good job to replace the one you had — you are counted as part of that drop in unemployment,(iv)  but how much is your economic situation improving?

Inflation rates are still low. But if you are young and starting out life with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt locked into high interest rates by Congress, unable to find a good job or save to buy a house, how are you benefiting from low inflation? 

A lot of broad national economic statistics say our economy is getting better, and it is true that the economy overall is recovering from the terrible crash of 2008.  But there have been deep structural changes in this economy, changes that have gone on for more than thirty years, changes that have cut out hard-working, middle class families from sharing in this overall growth.

It wasn’t always this way.

Coming out of the Great Depression, America built a middle class unlike anything seen on earth. From the 1930s to the late 1970s, as GDP went up, wages went up pretty much across the board.  In fact, 90% of all workers-everyone outside the top 10%-got about 70% of all the new income growth.(v)  Sure, the richest 10% gobbled up more than their share-they got 30%.  But overall, as the economic pie got bigger, pretty much everyone was getting a little more.  In other words, as our country got richer, our families got richer.  And as our families got richer, our country got richer.  That was how this country built a great middle class.

But then things changed.

By 1980, wages had flattened out, while expenses kept going up. The squeeze was terrible. In the early 2000s, families were spending twice as much, adjusted for inflation, on mortgages as they had a generation earlier. They spent more on health insurance, and more to send their kids to college.  Mom and dad both went to work, but that meant new expenses like childcare, higher taxes, and the costs of a second car.  All over the country, people tightened their belts where they could, but it still hasn’t been enough to save them.  Families have gone deep into debt to pay for college, to cover serious medical problems, or just to stay afloat a while longer.  And today’s young adults may be the first generation in American history to end up, as a group, with less than their parents.(vii) 

Remember how up until 1980, 90% of all people-middle class, working people, poor people-got about 70% of all the new income that was created in the economy and the top 10% took the rest? Since 1980, guess how much of the growth in income the 90% got? Nothing.  None.  Zero. In fact, it’s worse than that.  The average family not in the top 10% makes less money than a generation ago.(viii)  So who got the increase in income over the last 32 years?  100% of it went to the top ten percent.  All of the new money earned in this economy over the past generation-all that growth in the GDP-went to the top. All of it.

That is a huge structural change.  When I look at the data here – and this includes years of research I conducted myself – I see evidence everywhere about the pounding that working people are taking. Instead of building an economy for all Americans, for the past generation this country has grown an economy that works for some Americans. For tens of millions of working families who are the backbone of this country, this economy isn’t working.  These families are working harder than ever, but they can’t get ahead. Opportunity is slipping away. Many feel like the game is rigged against them – and they are right.  The game is rigged against them. 

Since the 1980s, too many of the people running this country have followed one form or another of supply side – or trickle down – economic theory.  Many in Washington still support it. When all the varnish is removed, trickle-down just means helping the biggest corporations and the richest people in this country, and claiming that those big corporations and rich people could be counted to create an economy that would work for everyone else. 

Trickle-down was popular with big corporations and their lobbyists, but it never really made much sense. George Bush Sr. called it voodoo economics.(x)  He was right, and let’s call it out for what it is:  Trickle-down was nothing more than the politics of helping the rich-and-powerful get richer and more powerful, and it cut the legs out from under America’s middle class.

Trickle-down policies are pretty simple.  First, fire the cops-not the cops on Main Street, but the cops on Wall Street.  Pretty much the whole Republican Party – and, if we’re going to be honest, too many Democrats – talked about the evils of “big government” and called for deregulation.  It sounded good, but it was really about tying the hands of regulators and turning loose big banks and giant international corporations to do whatever they wanted to do-turning them loose to rig the markets and reduce competition, to outsource more jobs, to load up on more risks and hide behind taxpayer guarantees, to sell more mortgages and credit cards that cheated people.  In short, to do whatever juiced short term profits even if it came at the expense of working families.

Trickle down was also about cutting taxes for those at the top.  Cut them when times are good, cut them when times are bad.  And when that meant there was less money for road repairs, less money for medical research, and less money for schools and that our government would need to squeeze kids on student loans, then so be it.  And look at the results: The top 10% got ALL the growth in income over the past 30 years-ALL of it-and the economy stopped working for everyone else.

The trickle-down experiment that began in the Reagan years failed America’s middle class.  Sure, the rich are doing great.  Giant corporations are doing great.  Lobbyists are doing great.  But we need an economy where everyone else who works hard gets a shot at doing great!  

The world has changed beneath the feet of America’s working families. Powerful forces like globalization and technology are creating seismic shifts that are disrupting our economy, altering employment patterns, and putting new stresses on old structures.  Those changes could create new opportunities-or they could sweep away the last vestiges of economic security for 90% of American workers.  Those changes demand new and different economic policies from our federal government.  But too many politicians have looked the other way.  Instead of running government to expand opportunity for 90% of Americans and to shore up security in an increasingly uncertain world, instead of re-thinking economic policy to deal with tough new realities, for more than 30 years, Washington has far too often advanced policies that hammer America’s middle class even harder.  

Look at the choices Washington has made, the choices that have left America’s middle class in a deep hole:

  • the choice to leash up the financial cops,
  • the choice in a recession to bail out the biggest banks with no strings attached while families suffered,
  • the choice to starve our schools and burden our kids with billions of dollars of student loan debt while cutting taxes for billionaires,
  • the choice to spend your tax dollars to subsidize Big Oil instead of putting that money into rebuilding our roads and bridges and power grids,
  • the choice to look the other way when employers quit paying overtime, reclassified workers as independent contractors and just plain old stole people’s wages,
  • the choice to sign trade pacts and tax deals that let subsidized manufacturers around the globe sell here in America while good American jobs get shipped overseas.

For more than thirty years, too many politicians in Washington have made deliberate choices that favored those with money and power.  And the consequence is that instead of an economy that works well for everyone, America now has an economy that works well for about 10% of the people.

It wasn’t always this way, and it doesn’t have to be this way. We can make new choices – different choices – choices that put working people first, choices that aim toward a better future for our children, choices that reflect our deepest values as Americans. 

One way to make change is to talk honestly and directly about work, about how we value the work that people do every day.  We need to talk about what we believe:

  • We believe that no one should work full time and still live in poverty – and that means raising the minimum wage.
  • We believe workers have a right to come together, to bargain together and to rebuild America’s middle class.
  • We believe in enforcing labor laws, so that workers get overtime pay and pensions that are fully funded.
  • We believe in equal pay for equal work.
  • We believe that after a lifetime of work, people are entitled to retire with dignity, and that means protecting Social Security, Medicare, and pensions.

We also need a hard conversation about how we create jobs here in America.  We need to talk about how to build a future.  So let’s say what we believe:

  • We believe in making investments – in roads and bridges and power grids, in education, in research – investments that create good jobs in the short run and help us build new opportunities over the long run.
  • And we believe in paying for them-not with magical accounting scams that pretend to cut taxes and raise revenue, but with real, honest-to-goodness changes that make sure that we pay-and corporations pay-a fair share to build a future for all of us.
  • We believe in trade policies and tax codes that will strengthen our economy, raise our living standards, and create American jobs – and we will never give up on those three words: Made in America.

And one more point.  If we’re ever going to un-rig the system, then we need to make some important political changes.  And here’s where we start:

  • We know that democracy doesn’t work when congressmen and regulators bow down to Wall Street’s political power – and that means it’s time to break up the Wall Street banks and remind politicians that they don’t work for the big banks, they work for US!

Changes like this aren’t easy.  But we know they are possible.  We know they are possible because we have seen David beat Goliath before.  We have seen lobbyists lose.  We’ve seen it all through our history. We saw it when we created the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, when we passed health care reform.  We saw it when President Obama took important steps to try and reform our immigration system through executive order just weeks ago.  Change is difficult, but it is possible. 

This is personal for me. When I was 12, my big brothers were all off in the military.  My mother was 50 years old, a stay at home mom.  My daddy had a heart attack, and it turned our little family upside down.  The bills piled up.  We lost the family station wagon, and we nearly lost our home.  I remember the day my mother, scared to death and crying the whole time, pulled her best dress out of the closet, put on her high heels and walked to the Sears to get a minimum wage job.  Unlike today, a minimum wage job back then paid enough to support a family of three.  That minimum wage job saved our home-and saved our family.

My daddy ended up as a maintenance man, and my mom kept working at Sears.  I made it through a commuter college that cost $50 a semester and I ended up in the United States Senate.  Sure, I worked hard, but I grew up in an America that invested in kids like me, an America that built opportunities for kids to compete in a changing world, an America where a janitor’s kid could become a United States Senator.  I believe in that America.

I believe in an America that builds opportunities. An America that ensures that all hardworking men and women earn good wages.  An America that once again grows a strong, vibrant middle class.

I believe in that America, and I will fight for that America!  And if we fight-side-by-side-I know we will build that America again.

What are chances of IRS audit? A look at the numbers

The Internal Revenue Service audited less than 1 percent of the income tax returns filed last year. But your odds of getting audited vary greatly, depending on income.

Individuals

146 million returns.

Audited: 1.4 million.

Audit rate: 0.96 percent.

Income under $200,000

141 million returns.

Audited: 1.2 million.

Audit rate: 0.88 percent.

Income $200,000 and above

5.3 million returns.

Audited: 172,000.

Audit rate: 3.3 percent.

Income $1 million and above

363,000 returns.

Audited: 39,000.

Audit rate: 11 percent.

Business returns

10 million returns.

Audited: 61,000

Audit rate: 0.61 percent.

Small corporations (assets under $10 million)

1.8 million returns

Audited: 17,600.

Audit rate: 0.95 percent.

Large corporations (assets over $10 million)

62,300 returns.

Audited: 9,900.

Audit rate: 16 percent.

Wisconsin Democrats propose hike in minimum wage

Democratic lawmakers Cory Mason of Racine, Robert Wirch of Somers, Nikiya Harris of Milwaukee and Eric Genrich of Green Bay are circulating for co-sponsorship a bill that would gradually raise Wisconsin’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and index it to inflation. 

“Wisconsin’s working families deserve a raise,” said Mason in a news release issued on Jan. 9. “More and more of our nation’s wealth is going to the richest few, while the cost of gas and groceries increases, and family income stagnates. It is long past time for those at the bottom of our economic ladder to get a raise.” 

Wisconsin’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. The lawmakers said that an individual working full-time at that wage earns about $15,000 a year, significantly less than the poverty level for a family of four. More than 600,000 Wisconsin workers would benefit from a wage increase to $10.10 per hour. 

Said Wirch, “The reality is that you simply can’t live on the current minimum wage, and the public is starting to recognize that we need to do something. If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation over the last 40 years, it would already be over $10 per hour. Sadly, minimum wage workers continue to fall further behind. Studies show that those making minimum wage spend nearly all of what they earn, so the increase will provide a boost not just to those working families, but to our businesses and economy, as well.”

Harris, in the release, said, “It is unacceptable that individuals who work full-time cannot support their families or meet their basic needs.” 

Genrich added, “I’m proud to co-author a reasonable increase in Wisconsin’s minimum wage. As a tried-and-true anti-poverty tool, a fair minimum wage will improve the lives of thousands of working Wisconsinites and empower them to support their families without assistance.” 

The Democrats hope to introduce legislation next week.

If enacted, Wisconsin’s minimum wage would immediately increase to $8.20 per hour and reach $10.10 per hour two years later. This legislation is similar to the “Fair Minimum Wage Act,” introduced in Congress by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin and U.S. Rep. George Miller.