America's workers face a crime epidemic—one in which the criminals are rarely even made to pay back what they've stolen. The crime epidemic in question is wage theft:
Gordon Lafer assesses some of the damage
Fully 64 percent of low-wage workers have some amount of pay stolen out of their paychecks by their employers every week, including 26 percent who are effectively paid less than minimum wage. Fully three-quarters of workers who are due overtime have part or all of their earned overtime wages stolen by their employer. In total, the average low-wage worker loses a stunning $2,634 per year in unpaid wages, representing 15 percent of their earned income.
And enforcement? Forget about it. At the federal level, there's just one agent enforcing wage laws for every 141,000 workers. More than half of the states have cut wage enforcement staff in recent years, and some states have tried to eliminate those positions entirely. For instance,
In 2010, Missouri’s labor department collected $200,000 in restitution for minimum-wage violations and $500,000 for prevailing-wage violations, and issued 1,714 citations for child-labor violations. Yet [Republican state House Speaker Steven] Tilley charged that investigators were being “overzealous,” particularly in prosecuting complaints of employers cheating on prevailing wages.
For many Republican politicians, crimes committed by employers against workers don't really register as crimes at all in our political environment. And while the Obama administration has cracked down
, the back pay it's collected is just a drop in the bucket of what workers have earned that their employers have taken.