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September 1, 2009

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The Working Poor In America

… get stolen from, retaliated against, hurt at work and convinced not to complain, and paid less than the minimum wage, not just sometimes, but most of the time:

The study, the most comprehensive examination of wage-law violations in a decade, also found that 68 percent of the workers interviewed had experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work week…

In surveying 4,387 workers in various low-wage industries, including apparel manufacturing, child care and discount retailing, the researchers found that the typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations, out of average weekly earnings of $339. That translates into a 15 percent loss in pay…

According to the study, 39 percent of those surveyed were illegal immigrants, 31 percent legal immigrants and 30 percent native-born Americans… [W]omen were far more likely to suffer minimum wage violations than men, with the highest prevalence among women who were illegal immigrants. Among American-born workers, African-Americans had a violation rate nearly triple that for whites.

Excuse me; I need to go punch something. And then maybe throw up. Then punch something else.

Posted September 1, 2009 at 8:03 | Comments (5) | Permasnark
File under: Briefly Noted, Snarkonomics, Society/Culture


Wall-punch inducing indeed. But anger is a tool to change the world, right? There's lots of snarkmarketesque material here.

From the executive summary, the three main recommendations are:

1) More, better enforcement (i.e. not just more funding and staffing of enforcement agencies, but new strategies that don't wait for workers to complain, since they are so often pressured not to.)
2) Updating laws to get rid of loopholes and revamping safety standards
3) establishing equal status for immigrants in the workplace.

The last one seems like a no-brainer, but politically difficult. How do we make it politically possible? The second one seems like something that should be managed by the experts, but with heavy, heavy oversight from a concerned public. How do we even begin to make that process more fair and righteous? (Righteous in the original sense, not the sarcastic sense.) The first one seems like it might be amenable to all kinds of creative, out of the box ideas. This crowd knows where to find those, right?

Or do we think there's nothing us liberal white collar elite types* could do to help our working class brethren besides be outraged and tip in cash?

*{insert rhetorical flourish expression here}

Here's an idea for number 1 (improving enforcement): offer a bounty to people who report workforce violations that are confirmed on investigation. Cold, hard cash, in your hand, right away. $40 per violation, let's say.

This changes incentives in two ways: it increases the reward for reporting, and increases the pressure on managers to *not break the law*. Because they know that each time they force you to work off the clock, they're putting that $40 on the table for the first person brave enough to call them on their bullshit.

Subject to abuse? Of course. But I think it's time to let the pendulum swing a little the other way, because this is just f***ing unacceptable.

Posted by: Matt Penniman on September 2, 2009 at 09:46 AM

I happen to work in payroll at my job and I notice that the report states that only 1 in 5 employees complained about these substandard conditions. It's been my experience that most the time these pay errors are due to ignorance on the employees side. It says that they are not being paid for clocking in early or staying late, or given proper documentation about their hours and deductions. If your an hourly employee you shouldn't be clocking in early or staying late, this results in unbudgeted OT and SHOULD result in disciplinary action. I also notice that no matter how much information you include with a paycheck, if the employee can't read or understand basic math they are going to disagree and feel cheated. And lastly, I notice that a majority of the lower rate employees are unable to follow payroll policy and fill out required forms, W-4's, time-off requests, or take responsibility to call in sick. I think this report is incredibly biased and believe that if the workers were a little more educated and responsible, they could protect themselves better form the occasional crooked employer.

Posted by: Chris on September 3, 2009 at 06:41 AM

So, the study proves that market clearing price of labor prevails more often than not, despite government attempts at price fixing?

These employers broke contracts, CTD, and they broke the law. Also: the injured-at-work stuff really, really bothers me. This isn't paper being shuffled around; these are bodies, and lives.

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