Now that the economy is showing some signs of progress, demands for improved employee compensation is making a lot of noise. While it's not coming directly in terms of new laws or budgeting, the government is working to push this new campaign forward.
First the signs of an improving economy. The Federal Reserve has been talking about raising interest rates. Although a set time has not been announced, chairwoman Janet Yellen has mentioned a possible increase in September. Add to that the unemployment rate at a low 5.3 percent and more jobs being added to the economy each month. The recent setback in the stock market that reacted to China's own economic problems has been labeled as a temporary trend. It appears that the economy is finally moving away from those long eight recession years.
Over the past few years, there has been a push to better compensate American workers. That focus has primarily been on wage earners, who are estimated to be earning less than the poverty level in most cases. This makes it more difficult for them to pay for the basics, such as rent, and many are taking on more than one job or relying on government assistance to survive.
Last year, the Obama administration announced an increase in the earnings of federal contractors. I had suggested at the time this was a subtle maneuver to get lawmakers to consider a raise in the minimum wage, especially since the official wage limit is set by the federal government. Lately, there's been a call by advocates to start pushing the minimum wage up to $15.00 an hour, although it will be a gradual increase over a number of years. This first started by applying pressure on huge corporations such as WalMart and McDonald's to pay their workers what they're worth compared to each respective company's history of profit margins and high revenue streams. Then Democrats introduced a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $12.00 an hour, but that was knocked down by conservatives.
It was announced today that the U.S. Labor of Department's secretary was heading to Detroit to support a rally that was part of the Fight for 15 campaign, which is behind that $15.00 hourly wage increase. As it appears with the federal contracting scenario, the administration is trying to maneuver itself around an increase without directly enforcing one since it's not getting the support it needs in Congress. This campaign has everyone's attention, with a majority of states now passing their own minimum wage requirements that surpass the federal limit. At last read, over 20 states have either increased or are set to increase wage requirements.
Paid leave has been making rounds as well. Scores of American workers are forced to take time off at their own expense every year. While the Family Medical and Leave Act introduced by the Clinton Administration is available to help workers receive pay for medical reasons, wage workers and small business employees do not receive that benefit. Advocates for employee rights have risen once again and the pressure has mounted enough to make tech companies such as Netflix and Microsoft extend the number of days workers can take off with pay. There's still work to do for wage workers, which miss out on any paid sick leave. But with the demands for better compensation to include wage earners, it's only a matter of time before their time off includes some pay, especially since pressure is now being placed on the government to enforce FMLA, and not just limit it to certain corporations as it now stands.