Income Inequality: Was Henry Ford right with his $5 work day?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Inequality in America

HFM&GVWith income inequality at record levels, proposals to raise the minimum wage have come to the fore once again. The federal minimum wage is now $7.25 per hour for most sectors of the economy. Some areas are considering raising the minimum wage to as much as $15 an hour.

Would you support legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour?

In 2014, 21 states and the District of Columbia will have minimum wages higher than the federal rate, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Voters in the City of Sea Tac (located between Seattle and Tacoma, Washington) just passed—by a razor-thin margin—a proposition to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for workers in and around the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Meanwhile, private employers are taking the initiative to raise the minimum wages they pay their employers. One such employer is Moo Cluck Moo in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. The fast-food restaurant raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour. A full-time worker at Moo Cluck Moo now makes about $31,000 a year—that’s more than what a new police officer in Detroit makes, according to Crain’s Detroit Business. In an industry known for high levels of turnover, the result for Moo Cluck Moo has been fiercely loyal and grateful employees with a strong work ethic.

Back in 1914, Henry Ford shocked the world by raising wages to $5 a day—and shortening the workday. He reasoned that well-paid workers would stay in their factory jobs and have the wherewithal to buy his mass-produced automobiles. His theory worked out.

Would you support a proposal to double the minimum wage?

What do you make of employers like Moo Cluck Moo?

Inequality in America: Could a “thrive-able wage” really go viral?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Inequality in America
Click this Zingerman's illustration to jump to the company's site and read Paul Saginaw's entire statement.

Click this Zingerman’s illustration to jump to the company’s site and read Paul Saginaw’s entire statement.

Income inequality is the U.S. is gargantuan. It is the highest ever since 1928, right before the Great Depression.

One proposal to narrow this gap is to raise the minimum wage. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour for most sectors. For restaurant workers, it’s only $2.13 per hour, with the expectation that tips will make up the rest. Could you live on this wage—even with tips? The unlivable wages in the fast-food industry have spurred protests, proposals to raise the minimum wage, and talk of unionization.

Now, a handful of the nation’s most innovative restaurateurs are pushing a manifesto to encourage a “thrive-able wage” in the food-service industry. You can read the entire text, written by Paul Saginaw, who co-founded Zingerman’s cluster of Ann Arbor-based businesses 31 years ago. But here are three of the most provocative sections:

“I reject the argument put forth by many in the restaurant industry that livable wages and profits are mutually exclusive. Our experience at Zingerman’s proves exactly the opposite and I am not convinced we are exceptions to any rule. …

“Our success stands in direct opposition to the false claims about livable wages and profits that have dominated the debate for decades. We are uniting to prove to the rest of the industry investing in our employees has been a driving force to our growth and success, not an impediment. To those who argue raised menu prices will result in loss of customers and diminished profits, I question the scale of your profit margins and wonder who is shorted to maintain those margins—is it your employees? …

And finally: “We would be irresponsible employers if the jobs we provided could not support housing stability and health security. So we are motivated to gradually raise wages to a ‘thrive-able level’ for all of our lowest-paid employees across the board. A living wage is the path to a living economy and the antidote to the current suicide economy trajectory we find ourselves on. We don’t own this approach. Nothing would please me more than for it to go viral, industry wide.”

Outspoken! Even inspiring? Perhaps naive? And that’s my question today:

What do you think of the idea of providing all workers a “thrive-able wage”?

Do you think Paul Saginaw’s manifesto could go viral?

Inequality in America: Was Dr. Strangelove right?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Inequality in America

Peter Sellers as Dr Strangelove in the Stanley Kubrick film“Mr. President, I would not rule out the chance to preserve a nucleus of human specimens.”
Dr. Strangelove in How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Should we take a lesson from Dr. Strangelove about the historic state of inequality in America?

Income inequality in the U.S. has been rising for years, and now it is the highest since 1928. Yes, that’s right: the highest since the year before the stock market crash in 1929 and the beginning of the Great Depression.

Is this something to be concerned about? Or, should we just stop worrying and learn to love inequality?

The Pew Research Center’s Fact Tank just published an article about record-level inequality, drawing on research by economist Emmanuel Saez. He defines “income” broadly to include all income items that would appear on a tax return: “wages and salaries, pensions received, profits from businesses, capital income such as dividends, interest, or rents, and realized capital gains.” All this is before taxes.

What does record-level inequality mean? “In 1928,” says Pew, “the top 1% of families received 23.9% of all pretax income, while the bottom 90% received 50.7%.” All this changed with the Great Depression and World War II. “By 1944 the top 1%’s share was down to 11.3%, while the bottom 90% were receiving 67.5%, levels that would remain more or less constant for the next three decades.”

Inequality started to grow again, attaining 1928 levels in 2012. The top 1% now earns 22.5% of all income before taxes. The bottom 90% gets 49.6% of pretax income.

President Obama recently gave an address expressing his concern about record-level inequality. In a way, he echoed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ remark. “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

But this got me thinking: Maybe we’re too fearful of this income gap. Should we take the logic of Dr. Strangelove and just stop worrying and learn to love inequality? Of course, Dr. Strangelove was talking about the dangers of nuclear weapons. In Stanley Kubrick’s acid satire, Strangelove advises the U.S. president to let the A-bombs fly at the Soviet Union. After all, he argues, anyone who really matters can still be saved.

Does record-level inequality worry you?

Is it a threat to democracy?

Should we just learn to love it?

Tomorrow: The thrive-able wage.

Capitalism: So what if everyone doesn’t have an equal chance in life?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Capitalism
Click the cover of the Public Religion Research report on its Economic Values Survey of Americans for 2013 -- to jump to the PRRC website and read either a summer or download the full report.

Click this cover of the PRRI report on its Economic Values Survey of Americans for 2013 — and you will jump to the website where you can read either a summary or download the full 62-page report.

Equal opportunitiy is one of America’s 10 core values. Almost all Americans endorse this principle. Indeed, America is called the Land of Opportunity.

But, is it?

Americans are divided about how well our economic system is working. Americans are also divided when it comes to the reality of equal opportunities. As I mentioned yesterday, those who believe the system is working cite equal opportunities for all as a reason—while those who believe the system is not working cite the lack of equal opportunities for all.

Is it really such a big deal if we don’t have equal opportunities for all?

A sizable minority of Americans say it isn’t: 39% say “it is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others,” according to a 2013 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). A slim majority of Americans (53%) disagree, saying that “one of the big problems in this country is that we don’t give everyone an equal chance in life.”

Attitudes about this issue vary widely by religious affiliation. At one extreme, black Protestants are the most likely to say that it is a big problem if everyone doesn’t have an equal chance in life. Over three quarters (76%) believe so, compared to only 20% who say it isn’t that big a problem if everyone doesn’t have a fair shot in life.

At the other extreme, white Evangelicals are the least likely to see the lack of an equal chance for all as a big problem. Almost half (47%) say that it isn’t really that big of a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others, compared to 42% who say that it is.

Where do you come out on this issue?

Do you believe that it really isn’t that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others?

Or, do you believe that one of the big problems in our America is that we don’t give everyone an equal chance in life?

Please, take a moment to add a Comment, below. And invite friends to read along. Use the blue-”f” Facebook icon or the small envelope-shaped email icon.

King’s Dream: Is it reality today? Look at these gaps …

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series King's Dream
This income comparison chart appears in the August 2013 Pew report, called "King’s Dream Remains an Elusive Goal; Many Americans See Racial Disparities." Click on the chart to visit the Pew page for this study.

This income comparison chart appears in the August 2013 Pew report, called “King’s Dream Remains an Elusive Goal; Many Americans See Racial Disparities.” Click on the chart to visit the Pew website and download the entire 46-page report.

Dr. Wayne Baker returns today! His first column …

Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial. Other notables gave speeches that day, but King’s became famous here and around the world.

Some say King’s dream words are inscribed on the hearts of Americans. It is true that “I Have a Dream” is inscribed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the very spot where he spoke—but how much of King’s dream is reality today?

There are many answers to that question. We’ll consider several this week, so please check back Monday through Friday.

Where do we stand financially?

Today, we look at the issue of economic freedom—a major theme in King’s speech. King’s speech was part of the March on Washington, as it is typically called now. Its official title was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, highlighting the twin themes of economic freedom and civil rights. The economic gulf between whites and blacks was wide 50 years ago.

QUESTION: How much do you think the financial gap has closed? A little? A lot?

ANSWER: Not at all, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. The median household income for blacks is $39,760, according to the latest U.S. Census data, while the figure for whites is $67,175. Put differently, the median household income of blacks today is 59% of the median household income for whites. In 1967, it was 55% of white household income. Since 1967, the black incomes have fluctuated between 54% to 65% of white incomes.

QUESTION: How about wealth?

ANSWER: Same story. The average net worth of a white household today is $91,405, while the wealth figure for black households is $6,446. Over time, the gap between white and black wealth has increased, says Pew.

QUESTION: How about home ownership?

ANSWER: This is one of the hallmarks of the American Dream. About three of four white households (73%) own their own homes. Among black households, the figure is 44%. The gap in home ownership has fluctuated over the years, but the rate of black home ownership is the same today as it was in 1976.

Of course, there have been some improvements, as we’ll consider this week. Today, however, the economic indicators tell a grim story—at least by these measures, King’s Dream is as far from reality today as it was 50 years ago.

Are you surprised by these comparisons?

How do you interpret them?

PLEASE NOTE …

As the creator and main Our Values columnist through the years, I want to express my thanks to our guest authors this summer! I appreciate their contributions: Dmitri Barvinok, David Crumm, Rodney Curtis, Terry Gallagher, and Joe Grimm!

The Gift: What do you give away?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series The Gift
Rembrandt's famous painting of "Christ Driving the Money-changers from the Temple," 1626.

Religious teachings on wealth tend to question what the rich have accumulated. Here is Rembrandt’s famous painting of “Christ Driving the Money-changers from the Temple,” 1626.

Note from Dr. Wayne Baker: I hope you have been enjoying our summer series by guest writers. We began in June with Joe Grimm on America’s growing need for “Cultural Competence.” Our most recent series was by Terry Gallagher on “Second Acts” in American lives. Here is Part 1 in a new series by Terry …

That money that you give away? Is it really yours in the first place?

In a series in this space in 2010, Wayne Baker focused on some very interesting questions about the morality of giving, including a look at the charitable motivations of the richest man in American history, John D. Rockefeller, who believed that God made him rich so that he could give his money away “for the good of my fellow man according to the dictates of my conscience.”

But was that money really his to give away?

We hear a slightly different take on wealth from Thomas Gumbleton, the Roman Catholic bishop from Detroit. In a recent homily on the passage from the Book of Luke about the man whose barns were overflowing, “a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest,” Gumbleton emphasized that it was the land that produced the harvest.

“Sure, he had to do something to work that land, but the land was in itself a gift,” Gumbleton said. “He had done nothing to provide that, nothing really to make the produce grow—that was God’s work. That’s a very important underlying truth that we need to get hold of: All of this world is not something we brought about; it’s a total gift from God.”

Certainly that’s not something only Catholics believe (and actually, many Catholics don’t believe it at all). Many other religious traditions tell us that the riches we have in this life are not really ours.

So what do you give away?

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(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Death: Ding Dong? Are we required to speak well of the dead?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Death
Margaret Thatcher in 2004, dressed for Ronald Reagan's funeral.

Margaret Thatcher in 2004, dressed for Ronald Reagan’s funeral.

From Dr. Wayne Baker: Welcome back Columnist Terry Gallagher. Terry is our most popular and most experienced contributing writer. You may recall his past series on Baseball, ‘The Real World, Aging—and Soup. One of his best recipes was recently republished in the new Feed The Spirit section.
Here is Terry’s first column this week …

Must we speak well of the dead?

The question came up earlier this year after Margaret Thatcher died. She was “the most dominant and the most divisive force in British politics in the second half of the 20th century,” according to her obituary in The Guardian.

It’s her divisiveness that many remembered when she died. In addition to whatever else she did for the U.K, Thatcher broke unions, stigmatized the poor, deregulated markets and privatized public services, leaving a lot of damaged lives in her wake.

So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that her millions of opponents were in no mood to speak well of her when she died.

In fact, an online campaign began immediately to encourage Britons to buy copies of the song Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead—and thus to move it up to the top of the pop charts for the week of her funeral.

Judy Garland’s 51-second song from the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz made it to the Number 2 spot that week.

“Let’s not forget you also have a family that is grieving for a loved one who is yet to be buried,” the BBC’s controller said after the radio outlet played only a five-second clip in their weekly round-up of the pop charts. “I think there’s a large part of the population that finds it disrespectful but then on the other hand you have a part of society which has decided to demonstrate in this way.”

From this side of the Atlantic, how did you react to the Ding Dong controversy?

Must we speak well of the dead?

Who comes to your mind?

Please, add a comment below. And, please, share this column with friends. You can  help to spread news about Our Values by clicking on the blue-“f” Facebook icons and showing you “Like” this column.