On Labor Day, it is fun to go to outdoor barbeques and to listen to horror stories workers tell about how they are abused by management, and so I think a few comments about the plight of the American laborer are in order. I won’t dwell on how you can be fired for being the “wrong fit,” or having a “poor attitude,” or even for not agreeing with the boss’s political views. Or how in a city that relies on tourism like Sarasota, many people must work on Labor Day. Instead, let’s look at some statistics (don’t worry this doesn’t get too nerdy.)
For instance, according to the Economic Policy Institute the productivity of the average non-supervisory worker in the private sector increased by 73.4% since 1973. Some of that increase can be attributed to improvements in technology of course. But much of it has to do with the quality and dedication of workers themselves. Although many companies may not deserve it, American workers are incredibly loyal and hard-working and when management “down-sizes” they simply suck it up and work even harder.
Unfortunately, although productivity is up substantially, pay has not kept pace. Over the same period the average pay for those workers increased only 11.1%. Workers who are members of labor unions make more than those who are not members, but, guess what? Labor union membership has declined from about 20% of the work force in 1983 to 11% in 2013. Whisper the word “union” in Florida and you will be shown the door. [Disclaimer: my father was a Teamster steward]. Today the federal minimum wage is $7.25. Adjusted for inflation it means that it has declined about $3 per hour since 1968. Let’s face it, if you work for wages today you are probably “skewered.”
Pretty grim, huh? Here in Florida the minimum wage is higher than the national minimum at $8.05. And, hey, we don’t have a state income tax! But what are the overall numbers? The median family income in Florida ranks us 37th in the nation. The living wage is calculated at slightly less than $17 per hour; 61% of the jobs in Florida don’t pay enough to qualify as a living wage and 54% pay less than $15 an hour. For the most part, the only states that do worse than Florida are poorer states in the South (thank God for Mississippi!).
Did I mention there’s no state income tax in Florida? You hear it a lot to justify the low pay. So if there’s no state income tax where does Florida get the money to operate state programs? The largest amount of tax revenue in the Florida budget comes from various kinds of sales and excise taxes. These taxes are inherently regressive, which means those who make less pay a higher proportion of their income on tax than those who make a lot. If you are a worker who makes $48,000 or less you can expect to pay between 9% and 13% of your income on taxes. The very poorest are in the 13% tax bracket. But if you make $180,000 or more (the upper 5% in Florida) your Florida tax burden is between 2% and 4%. I don’t want to shock you but that’s way out of line compared with most other states. Even in a country where wealth is unequally distributed Florida is an outlier.
So enjoy your barbeque, but the next time somebody tells you that our wages are lower because we don’t have a state income tax tell them you would like a state income tax so that everyone—labor, management, and investors—pay their fair share.