On the News With Thom Hartmann: Congressional Failure to Raise Wages Has Cost Americans $6 Billion, and More

In today’s On the News segment: If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 2009, American workers would have earned another $6 billion over the last five years; the stock market keeps hitting record highs, but big businesses aren’t putting those profits back into our economy; federal contractors won’t be able to discriminate against LGBT employees under the guise of religious freedom; and more.


Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…

You need to know this. The stock market keeps hitting record highs, but big businesses aren’t putting those profits back into our economy. A recent article in the New York Times said that corporate investment still hasn’t bounced back to pre-crash levels, let along made up for the lost ground from the record lows of 2009. If firms would invest at the same levels that they did during the previous decade, they could boost our economy by about $220 billion annually, and possibly create another two million jobs. When a business buys a new piece of equipment, they immediately provide more income to the manufacturer. However, they also make it easier for that manufacturer to hire more workers, and they make their own employees more productive. That single purchase has a ripple effect throughout our economy, but it doesn’t happen when corporations hoard their cash. According to the New York Times, there is little incentive to purchase new equipment to improve productivity when businesses can easily get more cheap labor. As wages go up and fewer people are looking for jobs, that new equipment starts to look like a better deal. Congress has the ability to encourage this investment through tax policy and raising wages, but many of our lawmakers have no interest in stimulating the economy. Republicans think slow growth and high unemployment are a great excuse to cut taxes, despite the fact that lower rates have never given us the economic boost that they predicted. In fact, we need to do the exact opposite to fix this problem. We need a living wage and a progressive tax system that encourage investments over dividends. Let’s take our economy back, and force big business to put the needs of our nation ahead of their corporate greed.

Federal contractors won’t be able to discriminate against LGBT employees under the guise of religious freedom. Last week, the Obama Administration announced that it will amend two executive orders to protect LGBT workers employed by companies that rely on federal funds. Those executive orders already banned discrimination by race, color, sex, religion, or national origin, and now they’ll make sure that someone isn’t mistreated because of who they love. Some religious leaders demanded that the new measure include a broad exemption to allow businesses to opt out of the anti-discrimination rule by claiming religious freedom. However, more than 100 members of clergy from around our country said that religion should not be an excuse to discriminate. The President chose to stand with LGBT Americans and leave out the religious exemption. Federal contractors will no longer be able to discriminate against LGBT workers, but we still have a long way to go to protect people in the 29 states where bosses can fire them just for being gay.

Last week, Paul Ryan gave a speech to the American Enterprise Institute and announced his so-called “Opportunity Plan,” which is pretty much just old policies in a new package. The gist of this so-called “Opportunity” is block-granting funds for 11 different federal programs, and leaving it up to the states to combine all those benefits, and administer the plan as they see fit. Ryan pointed to the supposed success of a Clinton-era welfare reform, which gave states a fixed amount of funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Republicans often call that reform a victory, but many advocates for the poor say that the reform just kicked many low-income families out of the program. In addition, several states have instituted harsh qualification guidelines for welfare assistance, and if they got the chance, they would apply these policies to more social programs. There are a couple decent points in Ryan’s plan – reforming sentencing guidelines and expanding tax credits for low-income Americans – but the rest of his ideas are likely to hurt the poor instead of help. Leave it to Paul Ryan to come up with an opportunity plan that doesn’t actually includes any real opportunity.

If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 2009, American workers would have earned another $6 billion over the last five years. According to the “Minimum-Wage Workers Pay-Cut Clock” from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, congressional failure to raise wages has cost Americans big time. That Pay-Cut Clock keeps a running total of the cumulative amount minimum wage workers have lost to inflation since the last time Congress increased the federal wage. Considering that the current total only includes losses since minimum wage was increased to $7.25, the figure would be astronomical if we added in the amount workers lost in the four previous decades since wages stopped climbing. Some people view increasing pay only as putting more money in workers’ pockets, but we must also consider that flat wages are really shrinking the value of their paychecks. The Pay-Cut Clock will keep running until Congress increases workers’ pay, and we’ll keep fighting until everyone has the right to a living wage.

And finally… Do you want to know who’s buying your member of Congress? Well, now there’s an app for that. Last week, a teenager in Seattle unveiled his new browser plug-in called Greenhouse. His motto is “Some are red. Some are blue. All are green.” According to his website, the free application works with several browsers, and it “displays on any web page detailed campaign contribution data for every Senator or Representative, including total amount received and breakdown by industry and by size of donation.” The 16-year-old developer said that his new app allows users to see the real impact of money in politics, and the real reasons your Senator or Representative may be voting for or against a certain issue. Even a teenager can see that corporations and billionaires have too much power in our political system, but instead of giving up, he decided to do something about it. The first step of fixing a problem is understanding it, and this new Greenhouse app could be the key to getting more people involved in the fight to take back our democracy.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of July 28, 2014 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.