Some anniversaries worth noting this week begin, of course, with Tiananmen Square. It's odd to think that these days all Beijing and Washington appear willing to argue about is air pollution, but there was a time when we had wider ethical chasms to cross. Free trade makes strange bedfellows of us all (although soverign debt imbalances may produce opposte effects). You can be forgiven if you have forgotten to mark June 4 on your mainland calendar, where the date is hurried past with merely the traditional march of the party's cybercensors. It is commemorated slightly more aggressively in Hong Kong, where almost 200 thousand turned out for a remembrance vigil, and other less surpervised outposts of the Chinese empire.
And belated note also of the June 4 100th anniversary of the minimum wage. It would be gratifying if this centennial marked the arrival of the minimum as a just or a living wage. Unfortunately it is now at a more than 50 year low in purchasing power. Christine Owens, executive director, National Employment Law Project reminds us that the first minimum wage law in the United States was established on June 4, 1912 in Massachusetts. (I don't believe the Romneys had anything to do with this particular groundbreaking social legislation.) The current federal minimum stands at $7.25 an hour, just over $15k a year. Owens reports that more than two-thirds of Americans support raising the minimum wage to over $10 per hour and many think it should be maintained with automatic cost of living adjustments. Right now it can only be changed by an act of Congress. That's tough going when workers are confronted by a Congress that is unwilling to act.
Owens shares her thoughts on the importance of the minimum wage at The Hill:
Today, 100 years after the first minimum wage law was passed, low-wage industries once again threaten to impoverish America’s workforce and derail the entrepreneurial ambitions of small business owners. .... There was nothing inevitable about the low-wage economy that we find in the U.S. today. What decades of experience tell us, however, is that unless we seriously acknowledge our responsibility to maintain the value of the minimum wage, we have little reason to expect anything different in the century ahead.