American workers react with skepticism when we say that abolishing capitalism and adopting a rationally planned socialist economic system would be an excellent way to guarantee future generations a future – period. Having been constantly told that the United States has the highest standard of living in the world, American workers have come to believe this. The problem is: it isn’t true, and it hasn’t been true for decades. The fact is, the standard of living for American workers has been in steady decline since the late 1960s.
Just a month ago, we met some folks from Australia who were vacationing here in Chicago. The woman was from the US originally; she comes back to the US occasionally to visit family. We asked here if she has ever thought of coming back to the US permanently. “Oh, no”, she replied. “I could never enjoy the standard of living I’ve become accustomed to in Australia if I moved back to the US. I’d probably be living with my parents if I moved back here”.
This surprised even us – so we asked for more details. This woman and her husband have access to much cheaper medical care in Australia than they would have if they lived in the US, she told us. And the pay in Australia is so much higher than in the US, she said, that though she would like to return to the US to stay close to her elderly parents, she can’t afford to come back. And then she dropped a bomb on us: “Oh, the wages are much higher in Australia. The minimum wage is over $16.00 an hour.”
WHAT? We believed that the Aussie dollar and the US dollar were pretty close in value: that turns out to be absolutely correct. As of this hour, the exchange rates for the Australian dollar and the U.S. dollar are:
Australia’s current exchange rate: 1 AUD = 1.0319 USD
1 USD = 0.9691 AUD
Rates updated on Tuesday 02nd of October 2012
“Crikey! We ought to head on over to the Australian Embassy and apply for asylum as economic refugees!” we thought!
Imagine how much better life would be for the average worker if the minimum wage here was doubled! As it should be!
The truth is, life for the average worker in the U.S. is, well… below average. But how far below average are we when it comes to the minimum wage?
We immediately began looking at the minimum wage rates of the world (well, not exactly immediately… we had a few beers, thought about it, read a couple of books on the Korean War and life in North Korea [not that bad until the USSR collapsed, it turns out]; strolled through the Forest Preserve enjoying the fall foliage, THEN we began looking at minimum wage rates) to see how the US compares with other major industrialized nations. And just as we expected, the US sucks compared to other countries in its’ “class” when it comes to paying a competitive minimum wage.
Wikipedia! The first resort of the lazy (and under-employed and paid) journalist once again came to our rescue! It has a list – a quite incomplete list, but a list – of the minimum wage rates being paid around the world. Germany is not on the list for some reason – they claim it’s because it’s difficult to calculate, given that every union has its own contract, in which annual wage increases are probably locked in – and the Scandinavian countries aren’t fully represented either. And even with these shortcomings of the Wikilist of world minimum wages (which should make the US look much better than it is) the U.S. comes in a lousy 12th out of about 150 countries listed. Wikipedia used a fictional currency called the “international dollar” to compile this list: “For the sake of comparison, an ‘annual wage’ column is provided in International dollars, a hypothetical unit of currency that has the same purchasing power that the U.S. dollar had in the United States in 2009. For calculating the annual wage, the lowest general minimum wage was used.” – [Source: Wikipedia, “List of minimum wages by country”]
Whatever. Here are the results for the top 14 whose data were available to whomever Wikicompiled the Wikilist:
“Minimum wage rates of the world, annually, in International Dollars [Note: No data are available for Germany, Sweden, Norway, or many other advanced capitalist countries.- IWPCHI]:
1) Netherlands €1,446.60 per month, €333.85 per week or €66.77 per day for persons 23 and older; between 30-85% of this amount for persons aged 15–22 23,029/yr
2) United Kingdom £6.08 per hour (aged 21 and older), £4.98 per hour (aged 18–20) or £3.68 per hour (under 18 and finished compulsory education) 22,597 /yr
3) [Crikey! Oz came in bleedin’ 3d! -IWPCHI] Australia 606.40 Australian dollars per week; set federally by the Fair Work Australia 20,027/yr
4) Luxembourg €1,801.49 per month for unqualified workers over 18; increased by 20% for a qualified employee; decreased by 20% to 25% in the case of an adolescent worker. 19,426/yr
5) Ireland €8.65 per hour [That’s equal to $11.17 an hour in US dollars! – We’re going back to the home country! – IWPCHI] 18,965/yr
6) Belgium €1,472.40 a month for workers 21 years of age and over; €1,511.48 a month for workers 21 and a half years of age, with six months of service; €1,528.84 a month for workers 22 years of age, with 12 months of service; coupled with extensive social benefits. 18,813/yr
7) France €9.22 per hour [$11.91/hour US – Ooh la la! – IWPCHI] €1,398.37 per month for 151.67 hours worked (or 7 hours every weekday of the month) [And don’t forget the free health care program compared to the US’ crappy rip-off of Obamacare – whatever that is – IWPCHI] 17,701/yr
8) Canada set by each province and territory; ranges from C$9.27 to C$11.00 per hour 16,710/yr
9) New Zealand NZ$13.50 per hour for workers 18 years old or older, and NZ$10.80 per hour for those aged 16 or 17 or in training; there is no statutory minimum wage for employees who are under 16 years old 16,462/yr
10) San Marino [Who? Where? How much does it cost to move there? – IWPCHI] €7.04 per hour 15,707/yr
11) Switzerland none; however, a majority of the voluntary collective bargaining agreements contain clauses on minimum compensation, ranging from 2,200 to 4,200 francs per month for unskilled workers and from 2,800 to
5,300 francs per month for skilled employees 15,457/yr
12) United States [We’re number one! We’re number one! USA! USA! US… oh, crap! – IWPCHI] The federal minimum wage is US$7.25 per hour; states may also set a minimum, in which case the higher of the two is controlling 15,080/yr
13) Israel [Just for the hell of it, we thought we’d throw Israel in here so everyone could see how crappy the pay is in Israel. They rank with the poorest countries in Europe, and have one of the worst, craziest, war-mongering governments in the world on top of it – IWPCHI] approx. 47.5 pct. of the avg. wage, or 4,100 Israeli new sheqel per month 12,493/yr
14) Spain €744.92 in 12 payments, €638.50 in 14 payments  11,426/yr
?) Mexico daily minimum wages set annually by law and determined by zone; 57.46 Mexican pesos in Zona A (Baja California, Federal District, State of Mexico, and large cities), 55.84 pesos in Zone B (Sonora, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Jalisco), and 54.47 pesos in Zone C (all other states) 1,753/yr
Those stats on Mexico provide a most eloquent explanation for why so many Mexican workers risk their lives every year to come to the US looking for a job – any kind of job. Wouldn’t you, if you could make almost 10 times as much money a year just by crossing an imaginary line in the sand?
So, fellow American workers: the next time that some US flag-waving idiot is out on the street chanting “We’re number one!” – leave him alone. He is to be pitied. He has no idea what’s going on in the world and how badly “his” government and “his” capitalist class is ripping him and his family off – and it’s probably just as well that it stays that way. He might come to his senses someday; but, thankfully, the future of the world does not depend on that ever happening.
We haven’t even begun to analyze the horrendously low minimum wages of the poorest countries in the capitalist world. Suffice it to say that hundreds of millions of our working-class brothers and sisters – and, of course, their families – around the world are living in dire poverty thanks to the greed-based capitalist system.
[Source: Wikipedia, “List of Minimum Wages by Country” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_minimum_wages_by_country%5D