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Obama Keeps Promise to Use ‘Power of the Pen’

Obama Keeps Promise to Use ‘Power of the Pen’

By Julianne Malveaux
NNPA Columnist

During his State of the Union
address, President Obama
promised to use the power of
his pen to achieve the policy
objectives that Congress
continues to block. After
advocating fairness and being
rebuffed by Congress, the
president chose to use the
power of his pen to require
federal contractors to pay
workers at least $10.10 per hour,
or $21.800 per year. That puts
a single parent with two children
below the poverty line.Now the president is using the
power of his pen to ensure that
workers receive overtime pay.
Currently, the only workers
required to receive overtime pay
are those who earn $445 a week,
about $11 an hour or $23,000
per year. The president has
proposed that that amount be
raised to somewhere between
$550 and $970 a year. Splitting
the difference means that those
who earn about $760 a week or
$39,500 a year would be entitled
to overtime.
Already the business lobby has
said that both a higher minimum
wage and mandatory overtime
cuts into their profits. Already
they have talked about cutting
the number of workers they
will employ, and the number of
hours they will employ people.
These greedy corporate giants
fail to note that while wages and
salaries for the top one percent
soared by nearly a third in the
past three tears, the wages of
those in the remaining 99 percent
rose by a fraction of one percent
in three years. A worker earning
$30,000 a year saw her wages
rise to $30,300; someone earning
$300,000 a year saw his wages
rise to $396,000.
Clearly, those who earn $30,300,
if not poor, are a stone’s throw
away from poverty. These are
the folks who struggle from
paycheck to paycheck, who make
decisions about whether to buy
their children new shoes or pay
the cable bill. These folks aren’t
trying to purchase luxuries, and
they aren’t looking for handouts.
They just want to live decently,
with enough food on the table,
with bills paid, and with a little
breathing room. These are folks
who don’t take vacations. Luxury
for them may mean a couple of
days off to visit neighborhood
parks. Summertime, when the
living is easy for children, may be
a burden to those parents who
can’t afford childcare.
With his effort to reduce income
inequality and improve the lives
of those at least the President
is moving in the right direction.
Unfortunately he can’t get enough
members of congress to follow,
because they are committed
to obstructionism. Aren’t there
poor people in these republican
districts? Are they willing to
sacrifice the well being of their
constituents to hold fast to party
principles? Researchers should
look at the levels of poverty in
each Congressional district and
shame these miscreants into
doing the right thing.
Republicans forget, and some
Democrats fail to argue, that
increasing the economic well
being of those at the bottom
improves the nation’s economic
status. Those at the bottom will
use added wages to pay bills, to
buy some of the things they’ve put
off purchasing, to pump money
into the economy. In contrast,
those at the top are likely to save
their money or invest it, failing to
spend enough to trickle down
their spending to benefit those at
the bottom.
It is said that a rising tide lifts all
boats. But some folks are riding
a luxury yacht, while others are
struggling to survive on a raft.
The rising tides argument only
works for those at those at the
top who have seen their wages
grow dramatically. Those at the
bottom are barely floating on
a tottering raft that has dozens
of holes, as evidenced by their
small pay increases, low wages,
and lack of overtime.
To the extent that President
Obama has the power of the
pen he can both improve the
lives of those at the bottom, but
also remind us of the meaning
go fair labor standards. This is
a conversation our nation has
not had in awhile. We have been
content to let the wages of those
at the bottom continue to drift
downward, while using tax policy
and fiction (rising tide) to enrich
those at the top. What does it
take to sensitize those at the
top to the plight of those at the
bottom? The Occupy movement
looks better by the day.

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