A new report surveying the effectiveness of wage theft laws suggests a great imbalance between the private and public sectors. As the private sector’s wages and benefits continue to plummet, low-wage standards are becoming the new American norm:
Laws meant to protect workers against violations by unscrupulous employers in all 50 states, this report reveals a very different picture of the actual “imbalance” between private sector and public sector employment standards. Since the private sector workforce is virtually non-union and concentrated in lower-wage sectors, the conditions such working people face are increasingly the foundation on which the American standard of living rests. Laws to guarantee an employee’s right to be paid what she or he is legally owed form a bulwark against the type of mass exploitation we are mortified by in other countries, and which are only a couple of generations distant in our own nation’s history.
While some states, such as New York, have been proactive in tackling the wage theft epidemic, a vast majority are inactive to the point of becoming accomplices in the crime:
New York, which passed a law in 2010 that greatly enhanced the ability of workers to recover nearly $3 billion per year stolen wages and for the state to recoup hundreds of millions in lost revenue — simply by enforcing the law. However, the improvements that states like Massachusetts, Illinois, and New Mexico have recently made come against a backdrop of virtual lawlessness. Our comprehensive survey of state laws across three categories essential to addressing the problem — Accessing Justice, Transparency and Accountability, and Securing Justice — reveals that 44 of the 50 states (plus Washington, DC) do not receive passing grades on combating the wage theft epidemic.
The simple charts included in the report and pictured above are cause for concern. Inaction by state governments to battle wage theft leaves open the possibility that in a matter of generations (perhaps only one) our economy will closely resemble that of a country we might currently consider harshly exploitative.