WASHINGTON (PAI) - Citing federal projections, Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry told a standing-room-only crowd of progressives on Oct. 24 that half of the jobs in the U.S. will be low-wage - minimum wage or just above it - in 2020. She declared progressives should lead a crusade to ensure high-wage jobs, instead.
Henry offered the gloomy prediction at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank that has contributed scads of ideas and people to the Obama administration and to causes nationwide. Progressives established it a decade ago to counter dominant right wing think tanks.
The celebration hailed the center's past ideas and achievements, but participants also discussed issues and crusades progressives should take up in the future - and a big one is reducing income inequality. That's where Henry came in, by describing what happened to a worker in St. Louis she had met who lost his well-paying job.
"I think of Morris Cornley, an Iraqi war veteran who was making $17 an hour. But at the height of the recession, his company shut down its St. Louis operations. He's now working at Jimmy John's," the fast food chain, "for the minimum wage with no benefits and no pension.
"And these are the jobs that are growing. Thirty percent of all college graduates are now working in fast food, because they have no alternatives. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2020, 48 percent of all jobs will be low-wage jobs that people can't feed their families on," she said.
Other panelists agreed on the lack of well-paying jobs, during a still-anemic economic recovery. They also offered some solutions.
Henry said one key way is to raise the wages of such jobs, and specifically of the fast food and home health care workers. A later panelist, Obama administration Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, noted his department is doing just that for the latter group of 1.8 million workers, 90 percent of whom are women and 40 percent of whom are minority. It's doing so by issuing new rules taking home health care aides out of the "babysitter" class.
Henry also advocated raising wages at the city and state level, since gridlock in Washington prevents a raise in the U.S. hourly minimum, $7.25. California just raised its minimum to $10, in steps. Henry cited a community organized around the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where a living wage measure is up for referendum.
"When the airport opened, they were all well-paying jobs," she said. "But now they're all minimum wage, with no benefits and many are contracted out. So, by ballot, people can join together to get more."