Harper: More Wage Theft Protections Needed

Mar 14, 2014

In this week’s Economic Report, Dr. Rick Harper discusses issues ranging from President Barack Obama’s proposal to toughen regulations for overtime pay to the net worth of the U.S. rebounding back to pre-recession levels.

Credit University of West Florida

Currently, most hourly workers must be paid time-and-a-half if they work more than 40 hours a week. Most salaried workers do not need to be paid overtime, unless they earn less than $455 a week.  But that works out to $23,660 a year, which is less than the federal poverty level for a family of four.

The $455 threshold for overtime hasn't been raised in 10 years, since President Bush upped it from $250 a week. It would be $553 today if it had gone up in line with inflation.

As for the President’s plan to raise the minimum salary where overtime pay would be required Harper says “It seems like there should be protections in place. To some extent there already are protections against wage theft, as it’s called. But, you can certainly see that there’s a need for it when the bottom of the job market is so weak.”  Harper adds that this is one of the few economic issues where the President can use his executive discretion.

Also, this week, the job market is looking up, with jobless claims down for the week. The Labor Department reports initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 315,000 last week. That was the lowest reading since late November. Harper says ‘that good news’ in terms of how many people are losing their jobs. But, he says the country has yet to fully recover when it comes to job growth. “We’re quite a ways away from getting those 400,000-500,000 per month job increase numbers,” says Harper, referring to the rate of job growth before the recession.

Locally, leisure and hospitality and government are the economic sectors reflecting the most growth.  For 2013, Pensacola recorded a healthy job growth of just over 2 percent.

Finally, the Federal Reserve reports that the net worth of the U.S. has climbed back to just over $80.7 trillion, as of the fourth quarter of 2013. Harper says that’s about where it was before the recession kicked in, knocking it down to approximately $55 trillion.  Harper says that’s a good sign of recovery.

The concern he says is the fact that net worth for the average household is related to home equity, which in Florida has not recovered as quickly as much of the rest of the nation.  

Dr. Rick Harper is Director of the University of West Florida Office of Economic Development and Engagement. He’s currently serving as Senior Economic Policy Advisor to the Florida Senate.  http://www.uwf.edu/oede/, rharper@uwf.edu