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Est. April 5, 2002
Mar 4, 2021 - Issue 855
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Ten dollars an hour four years from now is “chump change,” say Ben Zipperer and Daniel Costa of the Economic Policy Institute.

A GOP proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10 is only the beginning of the struggle to get to $15 an hour over the same period of time. For wage workers, however, the $15 an hour is needed, right now, and that’s obvious to anyone who is paying attention to the nation’s economy. You don’t need a degree in economics or finance to see that.

It isn’t just income, starting with the minimum wage, but the disparity in wealth between white and black families should be startling to any fair-minded person. The “Fight for 15” is a long-term struggle for survival of many families of color and poor white families, but for black families who for centuries have been ghettoized and kept from accumulating multi-generational wealth, the goal of $15 an hour is something that will help them pay the rent and pay for the rest of living a decent life.

While it’s true that there has been some progress for black families over the past half-century, the disparity in accumulated wealth is staggering. According to Yahoo! Money, “The median net worth of Black families is $142,330 - or just one-seventh of the $980,550 in wealth accumulated by white Americans, according to a new study from LendingTree that draws on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2020 Economic Policy Institute report, and various Federal Reserve reports. The difference can have long-lasting impacts.”

Many of those in power in government have declared that reparations are out of the question and that it would be impossible to determine how much and to whom the money of reparations would go. In reality, they just do not want to provide a penny to those who have been intentionally left behind by those in power in the United States since its founding. The law of the land, in addition to general racism, hostility, and bias among the populace over centuries, has resulted in the disparity that we see.

What the opponents of reparations will not admit is their fundamental bias against black citizens and other people of color. That has been made so clear in the past several years, especially during the years of the primary white supremacist, Donald Trump, with the rise of white nationalism and white supremacy, both in government policy and in the organizations that now proudly announce that they see the white race as secular lord overall. The Republican Party is a perfect example of that, as it has been taken over by members of the Trump cult, both violent and passive. While the party has censured or criticized and punished a few of its most rabid members, it remains very much a party controlled by a disgraced president, who is under investigation for many crimes and misdemeanors while in office and before he occupied the White House. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be much of a crime to be a white supremacist in the U.S., despite claims to the contrary. In some places, it helps one get elected.

Economic Policy Institute senior economist, Heidi Shierholz, calls the $10 proposal “a nightmare.” According to a 2019 Congressional Budget Office report, she explains, a minimum wage of $10 instead of $15 in 2025 would result in 600,000 fewer children and 700,000 fewer adults being pulled out of poverty. But that’s the minimum wage proposed by two Republican senators, Tom Cotton and Mitt Romney. The $15 minimum by 2025, the EPI said, would lift pay for nearly 32 million workers - 21 percent of the U.S. workforce.

A $15 federal minimum wage right now would go a long way toward lifting workers out of poverty, but for black workers, it would be a step in the right direction toward reducing the disparity in wealth between white and black Americans. It would only be a single step in the right direction. Accumulation of wealth happens over several, or many, generations. That’s where reparations come in and there is no excuse for foot-dragging on addressing reparations. Over the past few decades, there have been many fine minds mulling the methods of repaying the debt to black Americans who have been forced behind to an alarming degree. How reparations would be repaid and accounted for is not that difficult to conceive, for there must be a thousand ways it could be accomplished. First, though, there must be the admission by the nation that unheard-of injustice has been perpetrated over centuries and that apologies from the highest levels of government, federal and state, must be made. That might be the stumbling block for many Americans, who continually retreat to: “That happened a long time ago and we’re not responsible for that today.”

But the people who are enjoying the benefit of that disparity in wealth between black and white families need to understand it and how it came to be, admit it, and do something about it. Suppose there was a power line and gas line that connected your house to your neighbor’s and suppose that the meter for both houses was connected to your neighbor’s house. Your utilities have been “free” for a long time, but you noticed that your neighbor was falling deeper and deeper into poverty, even though both households brought in an equal income. If you found out that your neighbor was paying to keep you warm and ensuring your electricity supply, you might want to make it up. Would you make a plan to pay back your neighbor for your free-riding? If you were a fair-minded and moral individual, you likely would do that. So it is with reparations, only on a monumental scale. It doesn’t really matter when you found out that you were free-riding, rather, individuals must admit that it happened and resolve to do something about it. In one case, it would be paying back your neighbor for all that free living and, in the other, it would be paying back a large group of citizens who were intentionally left out (forced out, really) of any access to the wealth of the nation.

Among opponents of reparations are found many who profess to be devout Christians, and that is especially true among Republicans. Any number of rallies and demonstrations included people carrying flags and signs denoting that they believe in the words of Christ (Democrats don’t escape here, either, when they say it’s too late for reparations). Opponents of reparations would like to take literally the utterance of Jesus, who said, “The poor you will always have with you.” And they like to believe that means: Don’t worry about the poor or poverty, because they will be around forever. But Jesus also said: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me.” And that, for those who profess Christian belief, it could also serve as a warning that whatever you do to the least of these “you do unto me.”

As Rev. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, said, “We must be honest about the foundations of the political and economic systems we call America. I love America because of her potential. But I know that America will never complete the work of reconstruction – will never even get close to being a more perfect union – until we are honest about her past and the politics of rejections. And as a preacher, Lord help me, I must tell the truth about how the Christian faith has been used to whitewash the rejection that stains our nation’s soul.”

Politicians of all stripes must begin the discussions toward reparations, no matter what form they take. A $15 minimum wage is just the smallest step in the direction of repairing the damage done by chattel slavery and the hatred, discrimination, jim crow, and mass incarceration that have come out of that ugly stain on the soul of the nation. America, apologize now! And begin the march toward reparations. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.

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