No ‘Thanks, ‘till you’re better paid’

My mother, Nola Mae Canteberry, was a dear woman. She was hard of hearing, but she was full of charming sayings, which were always just right for every occasion.

“Thanks, ‘till you’re better paid.” she’d respond to a special kindness. The kind person would always smile. “Thanks, ‘till you’re better paid.”

The hint that the reward might even be better than the payment. Sometimes, that’s all we have to hope for, and it’s rarely negotiable.

But it shouldn’t be like that in the workplace. If you’re being underpaid, you’re being ripped-off…and unfortunately, most of us are.

Face it. “Living Wage,” “Living Stage,” it doesn’t matter: if you are being paid less than $12.87 per hour, you are being way, way, underpaid, and that is in “Y2K Dollars.” This year is Y2K-7.

You and 56.5 percent of all Black workers in the country earn low wages — $12.87 per hour or less (Y2K Dollars)— with the proportions of low-wage Black workers ranging from 47.3 percent in Chicago to 53.8 percent in Los Angeles, a new report by The Labor Center revealed recently.  

The report: “Job Quality and Black Workers: An Examination of the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York,” analyzes low-wage jobs among black workers, using data from the 2000 U.S. Census.

Some 56.5 percent of Blacks work in low-wage jobs, versus 43.9 percent of Whites, 44.6 percent of Asians and 68.7 percent of Latinos.

The amount of low-wage work among Blacks cannot be attributed to part-time employment: 54 percent of all full-time Black workers in the United States work for low wages.

Chances are, you’re underpaid. Even if you’re not “low-wage,” chances are you’re still underpaid. In fact, in most Washington, DC neighborhoods today, if your household income is less than $90,000 per annum, prepare yourself to be considered “low-income” for a mortgage on most of the condominiums for sale.

More details from the report: The retail sector, whose expansion is often promoted as a panacea for Black unemployment, includes an especially high number of low-wage jobs for African Americans.

Of all of the nation’s Blacks working in retail, 73.3 percent earn low wages. Among Black retail employees working full-time, 69.4 percent of those handsome retail “associates” receive low wages. Black workers are concentrated in industries that pay low wages. Three industry sectors – manufacturing; retail trade; and health care and social assistance – employ approximately 40 percent of all Black workers. Two of those industries — retail trade, and health care and social assistance —include larger proportions of Black low-wage workers than the national Black average of 56.5 percent.

Trust me. I too am underpaid. I know we are all underpaid, and there is not so much as a “Thank you, ‘till you’re better paid,” forthcoming from the rascals who rob us of our labor.

So let’s do something about it. Let’s: transform low-wage jobs into higher quality jobs for all workers, the report recommends implementing various public policies including establishing minimum wage, living wage and industry wage laws; establishing community benefits agreements that feature local hiring mandates; requiring businesses to return government subsidies if promises about job creation aren’t kept; and linking workforce and economic development programs. It also recommends unionization as an effective tool to improve job quality. I agree.

So I know what else I want to do. I plan to: Fight for fair wages for all labor. Speak out against the exploitation of labor. And check this, as a rule, I will not even withhold my labor from contributing to the common good, even when I may not be fairly compensated. And as a worker, I like to arrive “jive early” and work late. I’m generally a cheerful, generous worker.

And frequently I remember to say to anyone who does me a kindness: “Thank you, ‘till you’re better paid.” And I smile and think of my mother, Nola Mae Canteberry. “Thank you, ‘till you’re better paid.”

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