Workers Need a Way to Rise Up


The falling U.S. unemployment rate is not creating a path to prosperity for low-wage workers who continue to struggle to make ends meet.

A recent staff report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York finds that the nation’s 65 million workers currently scraping by in low-paying service jobs have few ladders to career success. As technology and globalization have increasingly taken hold, many traditional middle-class jobs that used to support a family have vanished.

“The U.S. middle class has declined as the labor market and class structure has split into a small group of high-wage knowledge, professional and creative workers and a much larger cohort of low-wage workers in routine blue-collar and service jobs,” the authors wrote. “These changes in the composition of employment opportunities, coupled with the rising returns to skill, have been major contributors to economic inequality in the United States.”

The result is workers in low-wage jobs are more likely to become unemployed or exit that workforce than move into a better-paying job.  Only about five percent will be able to find a job that allows them to enter the American middle class.

As the document notes, the country’s economy would be functioning properly if workers were moving from low-wage jobs to better paying opportunities. Instead, too many hardworking Americans are getting trapped in such employment, with nowhere else to go. It’s a sign that more investment is needed in education and worker training.

Unfortunately, too many elected officials seem to be ignoring these facts. They relish the latest job numbers even though they do little to improve the quality of life for their constituents. Meanwhile, families continue to struggle to keep a roof over their heads.

That’s why some are demanding change. This week, pro-worker advocates announced a plan to recreate the “Poor People’s Campaign,” which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was planning at the time of his death in 1968. While the campaign went forward later that summer without him, the loss of the movement’s leader undermined the effort.

Today, however, a new generation takes up the mantle, with 40 days of planned protests. Among the issues to be championed will be the push for a living wage as well as an end to childhood poverty.  

The Teamsters have spent much of the first half of 2018 reviving its role as a supporter of MLK’s legacy to bring dignity to working Americans. It’s time for pro-worker advocates to join together to show there is strength in numbers.