Favorite

Little people don't count 

Who could fail to be touched by the rueful complaints of lawmakers last week that if they couldn’t take home a little wad of tax money for a sidewalk, a swimming pool or a clubhouse they hadn’t done anything in this session for the little people back in their districts. You could just feel their sorrow, but as it happens the legislators have a bill that actually would help tens of thousands of the hardest working and neediest people back home. It would raise the minimum wage a mere dollar an hour, from $5.15 to $6.15, still a poverty wage. An Arkansas nursing home aide toiling at the minimum wage now earns about 65 percent of the federal poverty line for a family of three. HB 2499 is not apt to get far, even in a legislature where three-fourths of the members are Democrats. Little people, working people — those are just figures of speech, useful in debate. They do not count in the reckoning on policy, even with Democrats. Both the federal and Arkansas minimum wage — the state law now covers a few thousand people in small operations exempt from federal protection— have not been raised since 1997. President Bill Clinton’s deft politics with a Republican Congress forced a small two-step increase in the federal wage floor in 1996 that raised it to $5.15. Arkansas followed suit. Even with the occasional increases, the minimum wage has been falling in value for 30 years. The Arkansas minimum wage now is smaller, as a percentage of the average wage, than it was when a Republican governor, Winthrop Rockefeller, forced the first wage law through the legislature in 1968 by shaming the majority Democrats, who were supposed to be the tribunes of the working man. The value of the federal minimum wage is lower relative to the average wage than anytime since the 1950s. Monday, the U.S. Senate defeated both a Democratic proposal leading to a $7.25 floor in two years and a weaker one thrown in by the Republicans as a figleaf to demonstrate that they were not really hostile to working people. Lots of callous Republicans got to record a vote for a minimum wage increase but no business will actually have to pay a higher wage, a near perfect result. The Arkansas bill, introduced last week by a small group of Democrats, would raise the state minimum wage by a dollar this summer. Ordinarily it would cover only a few thousand workers in small companies, but the bill drops the exclusion of employers who are subject to federal wage-and-hour laws. So low-wage workers at big retail companies, manufacturers, nursing homes and chain operations would be covered. Thus while it is a much better bill it attracts bigger opposition. Some 15 states have now pre-empted the federal wage floor. If the legislature actually passes HB 2499, more than 56,000 Arkansas workers will take home another $2,000 a year. For most of them it would be their first pay increase in years. It has been a time when government drastically reduced the taxes of the super rich and their heirs — see the elimination of the Arkansas estate tax and deep cuts in federal taxes on corporate profits, capital gains, dividends, interest, high salaries and vast inheritances — while raising taxes on working families. Monday, the House voted to cut some slack for a big business that doesn’t want to pay taxes on its electricity. Do you think it would do the same for the poor, for whom the sales tax on energy is the cruelest in the state’s arsenal? Let’s face it. We don’t place any value on menial labor and those who do the thankless work of our economy, the work that undergirds executive bonuses, high stock prices and low store prices. Here are the arguments they will raise against HB 2499 and that will carry the day. • They’re just kids working their way through school. The facts: Seventy-two percent of minimum-wage workers are over 20 and most are women. • These low-wage jobs are just way stations on the way to better ones. But a poverty study showed that’s not the case. Most people in the lowest income category are still there a quarter-century later. The U.S. economy no longer provides mobility for low-wage earners. • Raising the minimum wage would only force companies to lay off people. But the mandated wages never seem to have that effect. They are often followed by sharper job growth. Witness the 1996-97 increases. When the wage bill comes up in committee, the 56,000 men and women who are affected and their families will not be represented by a phalanx of lobbyists like those in the employ of one big business that just wants to build mansions on the canyons above the city water supply. Why should they expect consideration? Not one lawmaker will be treated to a porterhouse and a pinot noir at Sonny Williams’ Steak Room on their tab.
Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
    • May 25, 2017
  • Goodbye, Mr. Trump

    It is hard to escape the feeling that the fortunes of President Trump and the country took a decisive, and for Trump a fatal, turn May 9-10, when the president fired the director of the FBI over its investigation of Russian efforts to swing the presidential election to him and the very next day shared top-secret intelligence with Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting closed except to a Kremlin press aide toting electronic gear to capture the intimate session for Russians but not Americans.
    • May 18, 2017
  • McCain is right

    Who knew that the crusty old warmonger John McCain was both an earnest and eloquent defender of human rights, a cause that is in what we hope is only a momentary decline here and around the world?
    • May 11, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Guns, God and gays

    Many more mass shootings like the one last week in Roseburg, Ore., will stain the future and no law will pass that might reduce the carnage. That is not a prediction but a fact of life that is immune even to Hillary Clinton.
    • Oct 8, 2015
  • AEC dumps ALEC

    No matter which side of the battle over global warming you're on, that was blockbuster news last week. No, not the signing of the climate-change treaty that commits all of Earth's 195 nations to lowering their greenhouse-gas emissions and slowing the heating of the planet, but American Electric Power's announcement that it would no longer underwrite efforts to block renewable energy or federal smokestack controls in the United States.
    • Dec 17, 2015
  • No tax help for Trump

    The big conundrum is supposed to be why Donald Trump does so well among white working-class people, particularly men, who do not have a college education.
    • Aug 11, 2016

Most Shared

  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.
  • Raw feelings in the Arkansas Justice Building over workload, pay

    Strained relations between the Arkansas Supreme Court and the Arkansas Court of Appeals broke into public view this week. I expect more to come.
  • Virgil, quick come see

    There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone.
  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
  • The health of a hospital

    The Medicaid expansion helped Baxter County Regional Medical Center survive and thrive, but a federal repeal bill threatens to imperil it and its patients.

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
    • May 25, 2017
  • Goodbye, Mr. Trump

    It is hard to escape the feeling that the fortunes of President Trump and the country took a decisive, and for Trump a fatal, turn May 9-10, when the president fired the director of the FBI over its investigation of Russian efforts to swing the presidential election to him and the very next day shared top-secret intelligence with Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting closed except to a Kremlin press aide toting electronic gear to capture the intimate session for Russians but not Americans.
    • May 18, 2017
  • McCain is right

    Who knew that the crusty old warmonger John McCain was both an earnest and eloquent defender of human rights, a cause that is in what we hope is only a momentary decline here and around the world?
    • May 11, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Underutilized waterway is a hidden gem in urban Little Rock

Event Calendar

« »

May

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.
  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • As the Investigator has moved on to mind-reading--denouncing Lyons for what she imagines he must…

    • on May 25, 2017
  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • And now the mainstream media is saying it is OK that they leaked the information…

    • on May 25, 2017
  • Re: Not leaders

    • Oh, Ms.Tolbert - You are sick at what is happening NOW. Where was this moral…

    • on May 25, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation