In the spring of 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, to join sanitation workers seeking better pay, fairer treatment and the right to form a union.
I was with Dr. King as he stood with workers, all African-American, all fighting years of labor repression and wages that relegated them to poverty. Dr. King was assassinated on that trip to Memphis. His death, just as the images of workers carrying signs reading, "I am a man," is forever seared in my memory.
Today, August 28, marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the site of Dr. King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech. As tens of thousands prepare to commemorate our nation's progress toward racial justice, it's worth remembering a central meaning of that march: economic opportunity. [...]
Income inequality has grown exponentially in recent years, as middle-class jobs that pay a decent wage have been replaced by part-time, low-wage work following the recession. All the while, corporations and CEOs rake in unimaginable sums.
Nowhere is this two-tiered capitalism more dire than within the hidden workforce employed by federal contractors. According to a recent study by Demos, a public policy think tank, nearly 2 million private sector employees working on behalf of America earn wages too low to support a family, making $12 or less per hour.
These are Americans who sweep the floors of our nation's capital, stitch our soldiers' uniforms and ensure quality care for the elderly and disabled, and yet they cannot afford necessities like food, housing and health care. Like the sanitation workers of Memphis, they are the backbone of our economy, and are in turn treated like second-class citizens.