Earlier this month, thousands of McDonald’s employees in 100 cities across the nation took to the streets to protest their minimum wage pay at $7.25 per hour. This protest followed a similar demonstration in early November by Walmart employees. Both of these come on the heels of the Occupy Movement, which began in 2011 and has all but fizzled out, a movement that protested the income disparity in the United States, where 1 percent of the population owns 40 percent of the country’s wealth.
As such protests and movements come and go, they raise many questions as to how to address the problem — but the reality of the situation can’t be denied. While conservatives argue that low-skill jobs shouldn’t get higher pay, the fact of the matter is that with billions of profits going straight to the top and a few sitting on hoards of cash, the millions employed by them get pinched and slow down the entire economy. And we aren’t just talking about McDonald’s and Walmart — though those are prime examples of how greed at the top bleeds not only the employees but the taxpayers who subsidize their food, housing, etc. A study by the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce showed that each Walmart location costs taxpayers $1.7 million a year.
Beyond Walmart and McDonald’s (even Apple has come under intense scrutiny about pay), on average, CEOs make 273 times as much as their average worker (other estimates show as much as 380 times) and over the last 30 years, CEO pay at American firms has risen 725 percent, more than 127 times faster than worker pay over the same time period, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
The argument for higher taxes on the rich, higher wages for the poor falls short with conservatives with the idea that the rich should not be punished for their success. And they have convinced many to think that they are being punished because they pay more in taxes than everyone else. Monetarily speaking, yes, they pay more; but relatively speaking, billionaires only pay 14 percent more in taxes than those living in poverty. But none of that matters in the end because, well, those who have the most control those in power, which is why the most recent attempt in Congress to raise the minimum wage was shot down by Republicans who control the House. (It’s been more than four years since the minimum wage has been increased though the top 1 percent’s wealth has continued to grow despite the recession.)
Perhaps the rich feel more of a sense of entitlement about hoarding heaps of cash instead of actually rewarding their employees with better pay and consequently better spending ability, which in turn makes the rich richer — common sense seems to be lacking here. We have hope, though, that something will ring clear for those who have the ability to change this plight of income inequality and disparity. It won’t happen overnight … but surely it will happen, one way or another.