Employee Rights and Sweatshops Term Paper

Pages: 6 (1810 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 22  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Careers

Low-Income Workers- Victims of Growing Prosperity in the Country

If you had always believed, like millions of victims out there, that America is a great democracy, I strongly suggest you read Barbara Ehrenreich's book 'Nickel and Dimed' subtitled On (not) Getting by in America. Ehrenreich's makes a convincing case against America's self-proclaimed democratic status when it calls the country a "dictatorship" where low-wage workers "dwell in a place that is neither free nor in any way democratic"(Ehrenreich, 173).

Nickel and Dimed puts forth some moving experiences that the author went through while working as a Wal-Mart worker under cover. The most striking point she makes is with regard to prosperity and its role in increasing poverty when she says, "the stronger the economy, the strong the upward pressure on rents. So I'm a victim not of poverty but of prosperity. The rich and the poor, who are generally thought to live in a state of harmonious interdependence- the one providing cheap labor, the other providing low-wage jobs- can no longer coexist"(Ehrenreich, 172).

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Low wages and the simply subhuman life of low-income workers have reached an alarming point and it is extremely important to do something about ever-expanding capitalist markets and ever-shrinking salaries of low wage groups. While the advocates of prosperity and capitalism will be quick to defend globalization, they fail to see the impact this is having on poverty in the country. As the number and size of big corporations multiply, the poor realize their purchasing power is shrinking everyday- turning them into the sore victims of abundance. Commenting on the monstrous dominance of corporations in the country, she wisely notes: "I'm watching TV in the break room one afternoon and see...a commercial for Wal-Mart. When a Wal-Mart shows up within a television within a Wal-Mart, you have to question the existence of an outer world"(Ehrenreich, 179).

TOPIC: Term Paper on Employee Rights and Sweatshops Assignment

Ehrenreich also discovers that race and poverty as intricately connected as she observed that most of the low-wage workers were either blacks of Hispanics "...most, but by no means all of the working housekeepers I see on my job searches are African Americas, Spanish-speaking, or refugees fro the Central European post-Communist world, while servers are almost invariably white and monolingually English-speaking."(25) And during the course of her study observes: "Maybe, it occurs to me, I'm getting a tiny glimpse of what it would be like to be black." (100). The author learned that race was an important factor since most black people were never used as models to represent the "traditional workforce." Most professionals were expected to be white as noticed: "...posters illustrating how to look 'professional' (it helps to be white and, if female, permed)."(13) Maine was one place where she saw more white low-wage workers and thus chose it as one of her temporary homes: "I chose Maine for its whiteness...it made the perfect place for a blue-eyed English-speaking Caucasian to infiltrate the low-wage workforce, no questions asked."(50).

Education was another important factor unearthed in the book that contributes to the conditions endured by low-wage workers. Unlike Ehrenreich herself who is now a nationally acclaimed author of 12 books with a Ph. D in Biology, most workers she called her 'colleagues' during the experiment had barely completed high school. Rising cost of education makes it almost impossible for children of low-income families to alter their condition. And the author also learned that education was what separated the low-income and high-income groups in their response to a certain situation. For example low-income workers couldn't stand up against harsh working conditions and always sought the approval of mean-spirited boos Ted whom she describes as "the only living representative of that better world where people go to college and wear civilian clothes to work and shop on the weekends for fun"(Ehrenreich, 117). Ehrenreich argues that low-wage workers lack the confidence to raise a voice against injustice because they do not perceive their conditions in the same way a high-wage worker would. Unlike her colleagues who would not only tolerate Ted's abusive behavior but also seek his approval, Ehrenreich saw him as "greedy and offhandedly cruel" person and refused to put up with his behavior since she was "actually a highly educated person, a Ph.D. In fact, and I can't just stand by"(Ehrenreich, 111).

Ehrenreich has made a strong case against low wages in the country and it is also important to see why this problem has reached the status of a crisis. The low-wage workers are definitely the most neglected segment of our society. And what makes this issue even more worth discussing is the long and painful history behind it. The problem is anything but new. Back in 1875 during the "Long Strike," coalminers raised their voice against the very low wages they were being given. But their strike and struggle bore no fruit when they had to return to work one month later, defeated and distressed. Not only were they defeated, they also faced regular slashing of wages from then onwards. According to Union records, wages were reduced in 1876, 1877, 1878, and 1879 the coalminers "received 48, 58, 50 and 51 cents respectively less than in 1869 for doing the same dollar's worth of work."2

There woes were translated into a poignant piece of poetry, which aptly describes their sorrowful conditions:

The workers sang their sorrows, reciting lyrics such as:

Our wages, they grow beautifully less,

And if they keep growing thus, I guess,

We'll have to put on magnifying specs,

To see the little figures on our checks,

It's nothing strange to find on seeing the docket,

We've worked a month and are still out of pocket,

It makes a man feel dirty cheap, you bet,

To work a month and then come out in debt.3

What is really unfortunate is that the song has not really changed for low-wage workers even at the turn of 21st century. It is found that instead of increasing, the average hourly salaries after adjusting for inflation have actually decreased 8% between 1973 and 2000.4

Wage laws are not developed in isolation and neither can they be implemented in this manner. They must take into consideration the demographic future of the population and more precisely the workforce to foresee the future of low-income workers. Wage policy must carefully consider the fact that demographic changes set the tone of business and workforce structure in the country. The U.S. population is likely to grow to 14 million in the next six years.5 This means that the workforce will increase by 12% by 2012. 6 The labor force will also adorn a more diverse outfit with minority workers increasing at a significantly higher rate than white workers. 7 The female percentage in the workforce is also likely to continuing growing. 8. It is also a fact that women earn less than men and minority workers earn less than white. 9 If all these trends continue, it is only obvious that minority workers will continue to face decline in real wages.

Policies in the past have failed to rectify the problem, as history records would reveal. Government has made many attempts to address the issue but had never been able to do so effectively. While some policies had a positive impact initially, the entire policy set has usually fallen way short of keeping the workers out of poverty. What is even more distressing is the lack of awareness regarding this issue. Most Americans continue to believe that hard work pays off and helps them in realizing the American Dream. According to a survey, 94% of American still maintain that "people who work... should be able to earn enough to keep their families out of poverty."10 But sadly, that is not the case. Many people who work have failed to keep their families out of poverty as it was found that 63% of the 7.5 million poor families had at least one member working. 11 And those who have been able to come out of poverty many might still be facing severe economic difficulties. 12

Raising the minimum wage has usually been seen as a sound solution to the wage problem, though it has its share of detractors. According to the Economic Policy Institute increase in the minimum wage will have a positive influence on the lives of at least 12% of workers. 13 This will consequently have a good impact on business activity in the country. 14 The critics however feel that increased minimum wages will result in fewer jobs and might even hurt small businesses. However no such loss has been documented. 15 It is interesting to note that only 13.4% of small business owners felt that increased minimum wage would "affect their hiring and employment decisions."16

Immigration appears to have a negative impact on real wages as well. According to a study conducted by George Borjas, it was found that immigrants from 1980 to 2000 "lowered the wages of white native workers by 3.5%, it lowered the wages of native-born blacks by 4.5%, and of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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