Raising the Minimum Wage for Working Men and Women in California and the Rest of America

The Past and Future of America's Social Contract

In the 20th century, the United States moved from an economy based on high wages and reliable benefits to a system of low wages and cheap consumer prices, to the detriment of workers. What's next?

Email This Page to Someone




The problem of low pay has dominated headlines this year thanks to striking fast food workers, tonedeaf employers, and a spate of successful campaigns to raise state and local minimum wages.Behind the news cycle, however, there’s a deeper issue than what Walmart or McDonald’s pay their workers today. Americans are once again wrestling with what they fundamentally want from the social contract—the basic bargain most of us can expect from the economy throughout our lives.

A generation ago, the country’s social contract was premised on higher wages and reliable benefits, provided chiefly by employers. In recent decades, we’ve moved to a system where low wages are supposed to be made bearable by low consumer prices and a hodgepodge of government assistance programs. But as dissatisfaction with this arrangement has grown, it is time to look back at how we got here and imagine what the next stage of the social contract might be.

• Category: National, Notable • Tags: Major Item, Josh Freeman, Michael Lind