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Written by Jim Jordal   
Wednesday, 22 November 2006

EXPLODING INCOME DISPARITY IMPERILS AMERICAN WORKERS

By Jim Jordal

 I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against the perjurers, and against those who oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and who deprive the foreigner of justice, and don't fear me," says Yahweh of Armies.

Malachi 3:5 (WEB)

Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you have kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of those who reaped have entered into the ears of the Lord of Armies.

James 5:4 (WEB)

It should be obvious from these verses and many others that God demands just and fair wages for all workers and pronounces His judgment upon those who oppress and cheat workers and their families from just and living wages. This demand for wage equity covers Scripture from the Mosaic Law provisions for economic justice, through the rantings of the prophets against injustice, through the parables and behavior of Jesus Christ, to the prophecies of the Revelation.

This is especially relevant now that the Senate has just temporarily shelved a bill to raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour, spread over several years. In a blatant double-cross, Republican leadership attached the minimum wage proposal to a dramatic cut in the estate tax, at great benefit to the super rich and at great cost to the public as the national debt burgeons. Democrats stalled the entire bill in order to prevent this money-grab by the mega-rich.

In the U.S. today, the top 10 percent of income recipients receive 103 times the annual income gained by the bottom 10 percent. It's a well-publicized fact that annual inflation-corrected incomes for most workers have more or less stagnated for the past 35 years, while incomes for the top few percent have skyrocketed.

At the very peak of income distribution are professional athletes, entertainers, and top corporate CEOs. One need only peruse the sports pages to realize that salaries of professional athletes have climbed beyond all reason. I remember reading that former Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew never made more than $100,000 per year during his illustrious career. Now it's mediocre baseball players with .230 batting averages holding out for millions per year, while real stars make upwards of $25 million per year, not to mention endorsement income.

Add to this income excess the sobering fact that many American corporations have become extremely generous with executive compensation. It wasn't too long ago that the average CEO earned perhaps 40 times the annual wage of the lowest employee. Not so today! With the advent of "celebrity" CEOs and the development of stock options, compensation of some top CEOs has climbed to a stratospheric thousands of times the wages of entry-level employees. Many CEOs make more in one hour than their workers do in a year. And worse yet, there seems to be no connection between job performance and total compensation.

These figures would be laughable, did they not result in untold misery for millions of workers and their families mired in low-wage poverty due to illness, lack of education, unskilled jobs, stolen retirements, and age, race, and sex discrimination.

As most of us realize, there have always been income disparities resulting from natural disaster, accident, illness, family size, diligence, luck, individual human abilities, and access to natural resources. These form part of the human condition, and cannot usually be halted--only met with charity and renewed effort.

But there is more to the low-income problem than luck, natural disaster, or skewed distribution of human ability. In addition there are man-made barriers in the form of excessively low minimum wage requirements, regressive sales taxes taking a higher percentage of income from the poor than from the rich, and rank discrimination based upon race, sex, or cultural background.

Politicians and business leaders intent on defending the income status quo claim that increases in labor productivity generate national income (GDP) gains that will transfer proportionately to all Americans. In their words, "a rising tide lifts all boats." But some boats mired in mud or sinking will be overwhelmed by the income juggernaut and will never rise equally with the others. In other words, the vast bulk of recent income gains due to increased productivity go to the top few percent of American wage earners and entrepreneurs. The vast majority of wage earners have seen their real wages stagnate or even decrease, notwithstanding the supposed prosperity of the past generation.

So when someone insists that the poor become better off as increased productivity boosts national income, ask the question: "Just who is getting the increase?"

But what Scripture condemns is any system--political, economic, or social--that further exacerbates the normal vagaries of life with deliberate, callused exploitation, injustice, and oppression. Next week we'll look further at this unfortunate situation.