The following guest post was written by Rebecca Thompson. Thompson is a native Detroiter and the Executive Director of Good Jobs Now, a partner of the Center for Popular Democracy. The organization fights for economic and social justice for low wage workers and Detroiters. She lives on Detroit’s east side.
Today marks the 78th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the law that gave us the minimum wage and a host of other protections to protect workers from the most cutthroat tendencies of capitalism.
While the law is still on the books, its power is fading. The federal minimum wage today – unchanged since 2009 – doesn’t let workers afford the most basic essentials, from a mortgage to monthly groceries.
In Detroit, federal inaction has hit workers especially hard. Detroit is already one of the most marginalized cities in the country. Last year, we faced the largest number of tax foreclosures in U.S. history. Our schools are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. And a recent Brookings study found Detroit has the highest concentration of poverty of the largest metro areas in the country.
While parts of Detroit have risen like a phoenix in recent years, with growing signs of life in the auto industry and a shiny new hockey arena, the reality is progress hasn’t reached the majority of the city and people of color have largely been left out of Detroit’s revival.
To give all workers in Detroit a chance to share in the city’s recovery, we must start with wages. The current federal standard of $7.25 an hour is pitiful – and Michigan’s state rate of $8.15 is hardly an improvement.
Meanwhile, a recent study from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found it takes $15.62 to afford a two bedroom apartment in Michigan. A single parent with two children in Michigan needs an income of $21.23 per hour year to meet basic expenses. In Wayne County, an individual must earn $14.40 to support a family of four.
Two years ago, a ballot initiative was launched to raise the state wage to $10.10 per hour by 2017 with the support of hundreds of thousands of Michigan residents. Through a series of legislative maneuvers, the measure was defeated and the current rate was put in place. A year later, lawmakers voted to ban municipalities from raising wages at the local level.
As Detroit stagnates, around the country, minimum wages are on the march. From California to New York, workers have won raises as high as $15 an hour. And the same workers have been demanding progress here.
But we should go even further than higher wages. We need jobs that give workers access to a better life, with full benefits, stable hours, and a commute that doesn’t take hours on the bus each way. To that end, we have been working to ensure Detroiters have a seat at the table with developers to ensure that jobs are going to Detroiters.
Growing up, my parents struggled with chronic unemployment and homelessness. We moved constantly, often living in houses without running water, electricity or heat. In high school, my mom began working at General Motors and was finally able to meet our most basic needs. I could finally attend school every day of the week. That job didn’t just lift our family out of poverty. It gave us back our dignity.
For far too long we have encouraged people to just take any job, no matter the pay or working conditions. That is not the American Dream. Nearly a century ago, the Fair Labor Standards Act tried to put that dream within reach of every American. It is now up to us to continue the fight to ensure the promise.
We know it will take a lot of resources, but with the community driving this effort, we will reach our destination – good jobs for every Detroiter. That’s how we’ll truly rebuild Detroit.