For North Carolina to truly prosper, we need to take care of our workers

George Hargrove, a McDonald’s worker in Durham, leads a strike chant for the Raise Up protest with other low-wage workers in April.
George Hargrove, a McDonald’s worker in Durham, leads a strike chant for the Raise Up protest with other low-wage workers in April. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Since the 1970s, working North Carolinians have become more and more productive, only to watch their share of the wealth they produce diminish. For the last five decades as a union and community activist, I’ve witnessed an economy that instead of serving the people’s needs serves the privileged few.

As a mother and grandmother, I am deeply concerned about the future my grandchildren can look forward to. They face an unstable job market at corporate-controlled low wages, uncertain access to health care, the ever-rising costs of higher education and the burden of debt upon graduation.

How can we build a better future for my children and grandchildren – and yours? We need to lift workers’ wages and benefits to a level that allows them to support themselves and their families, earns respect for their labor and recognizes their contribution to the North Carolina economy.

These goals impose on all of us the awesome responsibility to challenge the current economic environment. As an elder in the community, I am even more concerned and engaged in the current struggle. When I see the growing numbers of low-wage workers, on whose backs the North Carolina economy is built, I reflect on the need to build power for workers – especially including home and child care workers, adjuncts and fast food workers.

I have marched and will continue to march, educate and mobilize on behalf of workers. On Tuesday, I will join a host of passionate community members as a part of NC Raise Up’s march to fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to organize. This would be an enormous help to our workers, especially those who take care of our children and elders and those who have families of their own.

Home care is a particularly poignant issue for me as I grow older. I may need home care, and on a fixed income I may not be able to afford it. Many of my retiree friends will find themselves in the same place, struggling to meet living and medical expenses. Any of them could fall off a financial cliff at any time due to unanticipated health issues. We need an economic system that works for people who need care, and the people who will take care of you and me as we age deserve a raise.

These aren’t the only workers who deserve better. Child care is necessary for families today. In our proud public universities, I see the steady rise of adjunct labor with no benefits and erosion of permanent full-time faculty. This trend toward low-wage work is good only for the big corporations that rely on low labor costs for profits.

What does low wage work do for the N.C. economy? It reduces consumer power to create a vibrant economy for all – not just the super-rich. In addition to raising wages, we need to fix our state’s regressive tax policies. This requires us to challenge a system in which the few wealthy and big corporations dominate politics and the lives of too many North Carolinians.

The failure of our elected representatives to create a system in which each of us pays our fair share of taxes has consequences: We can’t generate the tax base, revenue and incentives to create a more fair and robust economy for all our residents. The current regressive tax and budget system decreases revenues to support and protect critical social programs, including education, transportation, health care and the environment.

To create economic health, we need to get started on treating workers justly. That starts with raising wages for average people in North Carolina.

A healthy state economy relies upon a workforce that enjoys a living wage so that we all prosper.

Miriam Thompson is a retired teacher living in Chapel Hill.

Rally on Tuesday

What: NC Raise Up’s march to fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to organize

When: 5 p.m. Tuesday

Where: CCB Plaza, 201 N Corcoran St, Durham 27701