A shocking new study should jolt South Carolinians into paying closer attention to the role the federal government plays in our state’s economy. Good Jobs Nation, an advocacy group, found that the U.S. government is the leading low-wage job creator in South Carolina, responsible for more than 30,000 poverty jobs that pay under $12 an hour, the federal poverty guideline for a family of four. That’s more poverty jobs than than Wal-Mart and McDonald’s combined.
The federal government spends billions of taxpayer dollars every year in our state on contracts, loans and grants with private corporations. These companies hire people to sew military uniforms, care for veterans, feed our troops and clean federal buildings — but many of these workers make so little that they can’t afford such basic necessities as food, shelter and clothing.
A previous survey by the National Employment Law Project found that 91 percent of port truck drivers in Charleston who transport military cargo have trouble paying their bills even though they work 60 or more hours a week. Disturbingly, nearly all of the low-wage workers in the survey are African-Americans.
Why does South Carolina remain one of 4 states without equal-pay laws?
By allowing federal contractors to create tens of thousands of poverty jobs in our state, the federal government contributes to South Carolina ranking 46th in child poverty, 48th in per capita income and last in union membership.
That’s why I introduced a resolution in the General Assembly calling on the next president to issue an executive order to make sure lucrative federal contracts reward companies that pay a living wage of $15 an hour, provide good benefits and allow workers to organize without retaliation.
Given that the GOP-controlled Congress is unlikely to raise wages or strengthen the right of workers to form unions, executive action is the only tool available for a president to create good union jobs.
With tens of thousands of low-wage fast food, Wal-Mart and federal contract workers striking for “$15 and a union,” now is the time to help workers achieve the American Dream.
Rep. Wendell G. Gilliard