Income inequality in the United States is staggering. In a conservative estimate, the richest 400 Americans now possess more wealth than the poorest 150 million Americans. Making matters even worse, since the recession 95 percent of income gains have gone to the top one percent of Americans. Something is seriously, fundamentally flawed with a system that engenders this sort of disparity in wealth, and a new national campaign called 15 Now is trying to combat this.
Fueled in part by the historic election of Kshama Sawant, the first socialist elected to the Seattle City Council in over a hundred years, the 15 Now campaign has already been a massive success in Washington state where voters in SeaTac recently approved a $15 an hour minimum wage by referendum and where the new Mayor Ed Murray has begun the process of raising the minimum wage for city workers to $15 an hour.
Building on that momentum 15 Now activists are hoping to replicate that success in NYC and across the country, where more than half of minimum wage employees are on public assistance and four million Americans earn less for 40 hours work than the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment. In New York City, where rents are well above national averages, a minimum wage worker would have to work 130 hours to afford the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment. It's no surprise then that many minimum wage employees and their families live in poverty and struggle to survive despite working full time.
Kicking off their New York campaign, members of 15 Now came out in full force on Sunday, March 2 to walk in the 2014 St. Pat's for All Parade in Sunnyside Queens. With more than 60 members present, the 15 Now campaign was one of the largest and liveliest contingents in the parade. Chanting "raise that minimum wage/ we've got to raise that minimum wage," and "Hold the burgers!/ Hold the fries!/ We want wages/super-sized!," they brought their message to the crowds of supportive onlookers who raised their fist and sometimes joined in on the chants.
Mayor Bill de Blasio was also at the event, and while he has stated that he is for raising the minimum wage, he has not yet come out with a figure he would be willing to support. 15 Now wants to hear this putatively progressive mayor come out in support of a minimum wage that workers in New York City could actually survive on: 15 dollars an hour.
As the Occupy movement made inescapably clear, there is a war being waged by the one percent against the 99 percent. 15 Now is a campaign that seeks to struggle against the injustices of our current economic system, one that takes the side of the workers over that of the one percent. It is time we fight for a minimum wage that people can actually live off of -- it is time for 15 dollars an hour.
[There will be two 15 Now actions taking place in NYC on March 15 as well. One will begin at Herald Square in Manhattan, and the other will begin at 425 Fulton St. in Brooklyn, right outside a Wendy's that recently shut down without notifying any of its employees.]