The American worker has been patient the last few years, having been instructed that because of the 2008 economic collapse and the generally sluggish economy that he or she must accept stagnant wages and reduced benefits. It is clear on this Labor Day, however, that this forbearance is rapidly wearing off.
Wall Street, whose greed and arrogance triggered the mess of five years ago, is thriving once again (or it was until it got a case of the Syria jitters). Corporate CEOs, some of them in charge of ostensible "nonprofits," are commanding seven- and eight-figure salaries, with bonuses. The working men and women struggling to pay mortgages and save money for their children's obscene tuition costs, are wondering if and when they are going to get their share of this largesse they make possible.
The New York Times reports that in 2012 U.S. wages accounted for a record low of 43.5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, which has been a main tool for measuring a country's economy since 1944. That means the American worker is getting a smaller share of the economic pie today than at any time in nearly 70 years. Understandably, those workers aren't interested in rationalizations for why this situation should be accepted.
The one-day strike of fast-food workers in dozens of cities shows how far down the economic ladder this unhappiness has reached. Working for wages at or near the minimum wage level, not represented by unions, ignored by elected officials, these workers are giving voice to demand living wages that they can raise a family on. The fast-food factories like McDonald's say salaries are the responsibility of franchise-holders, as if there is no connection between the corporations making hundreds of millions of dollars in profits and the low-paid workers making those profits for them. The fast-food workers aren't buying it, and neither should anyone else.
Rallies demanding an increase in the state and federal minimum wages are being held around the nation this Labor Day. Determining what the minimum wage should be is a process that must be done with care, as raising it too quickly or dramatically could provoke corporations that can send jobs overseas to do so. That said, however, when people are able to afford to buy cars and houses, the entire economy gets a boost. There is no denying that hard-working American workers deserve to be better compensated for their efforts. If they are, the American economy as a whole will be better for it.