Rising inflation and how to alleviate it


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It is no secret that inflation is extremely high. Inflation rates topped at 7% in December 2021, the highest rate since 1982. Inflation, the average increase in prices or goods and services, can be beneficial in some ways, such as making loans easier to pay off, but inflation negatively affects costs of living. For example, meat prices have skyrocketed in recent months; many meat packing companies insist that the price increases are due to supply chain issues and feed increases, but amidst this crisis, many companies are reporting record profits. The stock price of Tyson foods, one of the biggest meat packing companies in the U.S., has doubled since the start of the pandemic. So how can companies claim that inflation is ‘forcing’ them to increase prices, but are making more money than ever?
Good jobs are at a premium right now. Many states still follow the 2009 federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, which is about $5.58 in 2022 dollars, or $14,500 per year. You cannot live off of minimum wage in most states due to the skyrocketing cost of rent in recent years. And even with that little money, workers often earn less — a study from the Economic Policy Institute found that in just three cities, employers stole over $3 billion from workers in one year through forced overtime and other malicious tactics. This in turn means that they often have to rely on food stamps and in the end, American taxpayers have to pay for wage theft. Another major issue is forced overtime, which essentially causes employers to often get more labor for the same amount of money, with the threat of firing or other punishment looming over the laborers’ heads. Capitalism requires a lower class that can be strong-armed into acquiescing through threat of replacement; we cannot allow them to win.
Of course, workers can fight these abuses — but that often has its own myriad of problems. Less than 10% of workers are unionized these days, down from almost 35% half a century ago. A lack of unions prevents workers from standing up for themselves in groups, which advantages the employers. Workers individuals have much less power and standing than an organized group of workers. With companies using scare tactics and even hiring professional “union-busting” consultants, workers have almost no options to hold employers accountable these days. Many contracts discuss “forced arbitration,” buried deep in the fine print, that massively favors employers, letting them steal outrageous sums from working Americans; by some estimates, more than $12.6 billion in 2019 according to the National Employment Law Project. With less agency and no power, workers can’t do much but sit back and slave away without any hope for accountability. The costs of “inflation” usually burden the producer and consumers rather equally, but companies are making record-breaking profit margins even despite this “inflation.” So what can we do?
Technically, the simplest option is to pass legislation banning forced overtime, mandatory arbitration and increasing the federal minimum wage — but that is not very realistic. The much more realistic method is to encourage workers to unionize — union dues may put pressure on workers in the short term, but it is an investment that will net them better wages and working conditions in the future. Another big step would be banning the mislabelling of full-time employees as independent contractors, letting companies save big on benefits, a policy that is already gaining traction. 20 states have already banned this practice, of which California is part of.
I’m not saying it will be easy — it won’t — but we have to try. Workers used to have 84 hour work weeks, , but today we have 40 hours per week, at least that is how it is supposed to be. If you can, join a union and encourage your congresspeople to vote for worker protections. No matter how removed you may be from this issue, it is nonetheless important for millions of Americans and billions of workers worldwide — and the working class will never truly be free until they are on an equal playing field with firms.

This is not legal advice.