Stay up to date with Current Events from WebLessons, updated every Monday morning. Click Here to view the archive of past articles.
Throughout the 1960s, civil rights advocates worked and marched for jobs, justice, and civil rights, especially for African Americans. The March for Jobs and Freedom was one part of that movement but it marked a turning point in the fight for civil rights. The March, famous in part because of Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream speech, galvanized a movement, brought together a coalition of different organizations and individuals, and was a mainstream forum for the Civil Rights Movement. Last week was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. View a slideshow of images from August, 1963.
In honor of the 50th anniversary, last week Americans once again gathered on the Mall in Washington. This time, their aim was to celebrate the men and women who fought for civil rights, and to acknowledge the work yet to be done. In her speech, Dr. Bernice King, Dr. King’s daughter, proclaimed this was an opportunity “to reflect, to renew, and to rejuvenate for the continued struggles for freedom and justice.” President Obama commemorated the importance of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and the civil rights fighters for their role in American and civil rights history. (View his complete speech.) President Clinton reflected on the gains made and the challenges that still remain. President Carter remembered Martin Luther King, Jr. and imagined his response to contemporary issues and policies. Watch excerpts of each of their speeches. Which portions resonate with you?
What has Changed?—
How have Americans and America changed over the past 50 years? The Daily Beast presents a picture of civil rights in America in ten charts. In all ten charts, statistics about white Americans are presented in pink; statistics about African Americans are presented in green. The gap between them is presented in black. The ten charts capture the gamut of social and economic issues, from high school and college completion, to home ownership and wages. Which charts reveal the greatest progress in terms of closing the gap? Which charts reveal the greatest continued disparity? Which charts continue to show disparity, but also show progress? Are any charts flat lines with little or no change? Which charts’ seem most connected? Have any of these issues faded in importance in the last fifty years? Select two charts that you find encouraging, troubling, surprising…and write a brief response that shares your reactions, thoughts, and connections.
Would you Like Fries with that?—
Last week, fast-food workers across the country staged strikes and marches timed to roughly coincide with the 50th anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom. Their aim is to raise minimum wage from $7.25 to $15, and to organize unions without retaliation from employers. Last week’s strikes highlight the economic gaps that still divide Americans, and that the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s continues to inspire and to model how to act for change.
Fast food jobs are minimum wage jobs. According to the federal minimum wage law, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. There are exceptions: employees younger than 20 years old may earn less during the first 90 days of their employment, and tipped employees may earn less. State laws may set a minimum wage that is higher than the federal requirement. View a map of minimum wages by state.
What do you expect are the age and gender of the majority of fast food workers? Visual.ly’s graphic provides a snapshot of fast-food employees in the United States. Were your predictions accurate? More and more, minimum wage jobs are being held, not by high school or college students earning pocket money, but by middle-aged people. According to United States guidelines, the poverty level for a family of one is $11,490. To calculate the poverty line for families, add $4020 per person. Reexamine the graphic; do fast food employees earn enough to live above the poverty line? How many hours a week would a fast-food worker have to work in order to afford rent?
For a middle-age fast food worker, the daily grind of a minimum wage job and the struggle to provide for yourself and your family is one kind of pain. Add to it the sting of knowing that fast food companies can afford to pay a higher minimum wage. Examine the graphic Burger Flippers’ Wages Stay Thin While Profits Fatten. What does the graphic reveal about minimum wage jobs and company profits? Read the accompanying article, McDonald’s $8.25 Man and the $8.75 Million CEO Shows Pay Gap.
The state minimum wage is set by state legislatures. If you would like to petition your legislators to increase the state minimum wage, visit the National Conference of State Legislatures directory to find contact information for your state legislators. Select your state in the left-hand box, and ‘legislators’ in the right-hand box and click ‘get legislature links.’ This will share links to your state Senate and House of Representatives. Perhaps the state minimum wage is not the issue you care most passionately about. Explore your state legislature website to learn more about state policies and upcoming laws on other issues.