Instead, according to Demos, we have millions of workers who work full time, but are paid at low wages, thanks to federal contracting policy. If government takes the lowest bid to provide services, workers will likely earn the lowest wage. If our government specified that a living wage and benefits are part of the contract we would reduce inequality. Today, too many contracting executives earn six or seven figure salaries, while workers earn poverty-level wages.
I am especially concerned about home health care workers, and others in the hospital services industry because these are predominately Black and Brown women, taking care of our sick, infirm and elders. How can we expect these workers to offer the highest quality care, when we are not offering them the highest quality wages? These are women who bring chips of ice to the dying, who hold a hand and say a prayer to someone who needs comforting. They rub the feet and massage the heads of those who are in pain. What if the low wages they are paid becomes a stressor, not allowing them to fully focus on their work for worries about their own economic survival?
Our economy has been bifurcated between those who have good jobs and bad jobs. Good jobs have decent pay and benefits, while bad jobs have hourly pay and none of the above. Increasingly, the Great Recession has pushed former good job workers into bad jobs, and bad jobs have become the norm for too many. We may be creating a permanent underclass by offering too little to too many, using federal funds to subsidize this inequality. When full–time workers need food stamps and federally subsidized health insurance, when full-time workers cannot afford apartments, when full time workers give full effort and remain in poverty, then we have turned the American dream into a nightmare!
We cannot compete in this global economy if we cannot pay people wisely and well. Without regulation, the private sector may pay unequal wages, but there is no reason for the federal government to do the same thing.
(Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is president emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.)
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