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BERNARD COLUMN: Georgia and U.S. need a $15 hourly minimum wage

By Jack Bernard

Having a reasonable minimum wage decreases inequality while encouraging those at the margins of our society to get a job. Frankly, with the constantly rising cost of living, raising the minimum wage just seems logical. 

However, despite inflation, the unrealistic $7.25 per hour national minimum wage has not been raised since 2009. But, contrary to what the current right-wing ideologues controlling the GOP may say, raising the minimum wage is not a new or revolutionary concept. Minimum wage increases have been legislated 22 times before by both the Republican and Democrat “socialists” running our nation since 1938. 

Raising the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15 will not suddenly lead to total income equity in Georgia or the United States. However, it would clearly be a small step in the right direction and is supported by the majority of Americans. The fact is that America has become more and more economically stratified over time. And a move to $15/hour is long overdue in a nation with gross income inequitites.

The Rand Corporation recently issued a report showing how the US middle class (defined as the “middle 60 percent of the earnings distribution” income) is declining. One chart “Share of Total Income Accruing to Middle 60 Percent, 1967–2019,” illustrates how the proportion of income going to the middle class went from 53% in 1969 (when I graduated from college) to 45% today (https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives). 

Another chart illustrates that we are far behind other developed nations regarding income inequities. For example, for Gen X folks (born 1965-1982) in the USA, only 54% are middle class. The average number for OECD developed nations is 64%.

A few years ago, EPI analyzed historical compensation data for CEOs and other employees (https://www.epi.org/publication/ceo-compensation-2018/). What EPI found was shocking. Since 1978, CEO pay was up an amazing 940% while pay for the common worker was almost flat, with just a 12% increase. That’s a 278-1 ratio.

Back in 1978, the average CEO annual comp for the 350 largest corporations was less than $1 million. That CEO now makes an average of $17 million annually (including $14 million in exercised stock options, taxed at low rates).

There are many CEOs of failing companies that make millions annually.