June 2014 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

June 2014

California Grocery Workers Struggle to Buy Food

Grocery workers in California are twice as likely as the average Californian to be unable to afford to buy food: 

One out of three grocery workers in California is receiving some type of public assistance while one in five rations the food he or she helps sell, according to a new report that laments the industry’s diminishing standing as a source of stable, middle-class jobs.

For a study set to be published Monday, University of California researchers interviewed 925 people who work for supermarket chains, smaller ethnic markets or in the grocery sections of big box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target, making it one of the largest surveys ever done of the state’s grocery industry workforce of 383,900, The San Francisco Chronicle reports (http://bit.ly/SFs6AU).

The study was commissioned by a labor union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council. It found that the median wage at unionized stores fell from $19.38 in 2000 to $15.17 an hour in 2012, with workers at non-union shops earning less than $10 an hour. [AP]

This message has been brought to you buy irony and the casual cruelty of capitalism. 


[Photo credit: Bailey S., Creative Commons.]

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[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

The Great American Chain Gang

There are 870,000 inmates in the United States’ prison workforce. These inmates have virtually no rights at work. Prisoners typically earn less than a dollar an hour, and most of them work at keeping their own prisons running. If all the work of running prisons were paid at minimum wage, prison wouldn’t be nearly as profitable as it currently is. 

Beth Schwartzapfel investigates the demi-monde of the nation’s incarcerated workforce for the American Prospect:

Despite decades’ worth of talk about reform—of giving prisoners the skills and resources they need to build a life after prison—the vast majority of these workers, almost 700,000, still do “institutional maintenance” work like Hazen’s. They mop cellblock floors, prepare and serve food in the dining hall, mow the lawns, file papers in the warden’s office, and launder millions of tons of uniforms and bed linens. Compensation varies from state to state and facility to facility, but the median wage in state and federal prisons is 20 and 31 cents an hour, respectively.

It might appear that the public is saving money by making prisoners earn their keep at very low wages, but this analysis neglects the fact many prisoners have dependents on the outside who are forced onto public assistance because their former breadwinner’s full-time wages are scarcely enough to keep her in sanitary pads from the prison commissary. That’s not even counting the indirect costs of prisoners being released with no savings, or even large debts from all the fees they racked up in the court system. When prisoners are let out with no resources to reestablish themselves in society, they may be tempted to reoffend. 


[Photo credit: Valery, Creative Commons.]