Lamar W. Hankins : The March for Jobs and Freedom After 50 Years

50 years later:
The March for Jobs and Freedom

While King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech is clearly worthy of distinction, our memories of the event have shunted aside one of the primary purposes of the March: to push for a $2-per-hour minimum wage.

By Lamar W. Hankins /The Rag Blog / August 24, 2013

[A series of events marking the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedem is being held Saturday, August 24-Wednesday, August 28, in Washington, D.C., highlighted by a Realize the Dream March and Rally on Saturday, 8 a.m-4 p.m., and a March for Jobs and Justice on Wednesday, 11:30-4 p.m., led by veterans of the ’63 event and featuring speeches by President Obama and former presidents Clinton and Carter.]

August 28, 2013, will mark the 50th anniversary of what is now called “The March on Washington,” but was officially named “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” I was unable to go to Washington, D.C., 50 years ago, but I remember where I was, and the March was certainly on my mind. A friend and I were on a trip through Houston. We stopped at a Foley’s store and spent some time in the appliance section watching the March on the televisions displayed.

Another friend I had known in high school was working for a federal agency in D.C. at the time. He and his fellow employees were sent home for the day (a Wednesday) because the government feared violence, clear evidence of the state of race relations at the time. My traveling companion and I were pleased to see that the March was as peaceful as its organizers had hoped it would be.

There were stirring speeches by John Lewis, now a Congressman from Georgia, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. Others well-known in public life were in attendance or sent their remarks to be read by others. James Farmer, head of the Congress of Racial Equality, was in jail in Louisiana. His remarks were read by Floyd McKissick. Author James Baldwin’s remarks were read by Sidney Poitier.

Others, including labor leader Walter Reuther and actor and singer Josephine Baker gave brief speeches. A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin played key roles in organizing the March, which was supported by the major civil rights organizations active at that time, as well as the AFL-CIO, and other union and religious groups.

Many musicians and singers performed, including Marian Anderson; Joan Baez; Bob Dylan; Mahalia Jackson; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Odetta; and Josh White. Actors present included Charlton Heston, Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Diahann Carroll, Ossie Davis, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lena Horne, and Paul Newman, along with comedian Dick Gregory.

March on Washington, 2013.

What we hear most about the March was the famous “I Have a Dream” speech of Dr. King. While the speech is clearly worthy of distinction, our memories of the event have shunted aside one of the primary purposes of the March: to push for a $2-per-hour minimum wage.

Had that goal been achieved and a $2 minimum wage been passed and indexed for inflation, the minimum wage today would be $15.26 based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator.

It happens that $15.26 is less than what a living wage in San Marcos-Austin-Georgetown would be today for one adult supporting one child. That figure, according to the Living Wage Calculator maintained by MIT, is $19.56 for those living in San Marcos/Hays County, Austin/Travis County, and Georgetown/Williamson County. The Living Wage Calculator takes into account the following costs:

  • It uses the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2010 low-cost food plan, with regional adjustments. A family of four with two adults and two young children is expected to spend about $650 on food, less than $22 a day for the four.
  • Child care costs are determined from a report, “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care – 2011 Update” published by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.
  • The cost of health care is derived from the “2010 Consumer Expenditure Survey” prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the “2010 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey” published by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
  • Housing costs are from “2010 Fair Market Rents” produced by U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Transportation expenses are from the “2010 Consumer Expenditure Survey.”
  • Other necessities are derived using regional adjustment factors from the “2010 Consumer Expenditure Survey.”
  • Tax figures include estimated Federal payroll taxes as well as Federal and State income taxes for the 2011 tax year.

These Living Wage calculations show that we are nowhere close to what an inflation-adjusted minimum wage would be had it been $2 an hour in 1963. In fact, we are at less than half that amount with a current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. And President Obama earlier this year, in the face of strong opposition, requested an increase in the federal minimum wage to a pitifully inadequate $9 per hour.

These facts about what income can provide a minimal standard of living in the U.S. demonstrates that we have an economic system unwilling to provide Americans with a living wage when left to its own devices. But, as we are learning from current efforts by workers at fast food restaurants to be paid adequate wages, the companies that own these businesses are raking in plenty of profits from the labor of workers.

These companies could both thrive and allow their workers to live decently. An undergraduate student at the University of Kansas who researched McDonald’s company-owned stores found that the fast food giant could double all employee salaries by increasing the cost of a Big Mac by 68 cents, without giving up one penny of profits. And Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, believes that McDonald’s is so large, vast, and lucrative that the company could easily manage a major wage increase for its employees without damaging its profits.

Recently, fast food workers in New York City, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City, and Flint, Michigan, have been demanding that they be paid something closer to a living wage and that they be allowed to have the chance to form a union without intimidation by management. They ask to be paid $15 an hour, just under what the 1963 $2 per hour minimum wage demand would be if adjusted for inflation.

As a result of these recent efforts to obtain fairer pay, work stoppages and walkouts have occurred in fast food restaurants in several cities. Their efforts are being aided by the Service Employees International Union and could be advanced further if those of us who consume fast food support them.

If consumers respond to the moral issues related to fast food businesses by refusing to patronize fast food restaurants that won’t pay a living wage to their employees, this movement could finally realize a part of King’s dream and a primary objective of the 1963 March on Washington.

Nothing could be a more fitting memorial to the man who was killed while supporting sanitation workers in Memphis, who sought better wages, than for minimum wage workers throughout the country finally to be paid a fair wage that allows them and their families to live adequately.

[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins. Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.]

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