In the Two Minute Drill, we explain complex issues in politics in 250 words or less (roughly the amount of words it takes the average adult two minutes to read on a monitor). Politics just isn’t always that complicated. Without the fluff and partisan bias, even the most complex of our political differences can be explained succinctly. This week: President Obama’s overtime pay proposal triggers a new debate about wages.
Yesterday, President Obama directed the Department of Labor (DoL) to revamp its regulations to require overtime pay for millions of American workers. Unsurprisingly, business groups and Republicans in Congress chafed at the proposed changes. “We understand the administration is looking for ways to put more money in people’s pockets, but the only way to do that is to grow the economy and create more jobs,” said Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law and policy for the Chamber of Commerce. “Adding more burdens to employers will not accomplish that goal.”
The Explanation (250 or Bust)
Americans are working longer hours and are more productive. But overall employee compensation (including health and retirement benefits) has slipped badly, falling to its lowest share of national income in more than 50 years. One explanation for this is that millions of workers are working overtime and not getting paid for it.
It has long been time to update the overtime rules, and President Obama’s policy reforms would make a significant difference without requiring legislative approval.
The most important of Obama’s proposals is to raise the salary threshold – the pay level below which all hourly and salaried workers are guaranteed overtime pay. Today’s threshold – at $455 a week, or $23,660 a year – is far below historical levels in real terms, and is only $2 a week above the poverty level for a family of four. As the rules stand now, an “assistant manager” at a fast food restaurant who spends 95 percent of their time cooking fries and running a cash register can be denied overtime pay and work 60 or 70 hours a week if their salary is at least $23,660 a year.
In addition, Obama is seeking to change the rules that allow employers to deny certain employees overtime pay under a so-called “white-collar exemption.” Under current rules, employees who are deemed “executive,” “administrative” or “professional” by their employers are exempt from receiving overtime. Cooks, for example, can be called “managers” so that their employer can deny them overtime pay.
The current rules are simply indefensible.
Word Count: 250
The Five Most Interesting Things We’ve Read This Week
Here are the five most interesting articles (both political and non-political) we’ve read this week:
- “[I]f your childhood music lessons never turned into a concert orchestra gig, rest assured: It’s probably not just that you didn’t practice enough. Thank your innate lack of talent!” From Fast Company: Scientists Debunk the Myth That 10,000 Hours of Practice Makes You an Expert. Here’s a link to the study.
- “A bride stands at the alter, worrying about her missing husband-to-be. ‘He’s always late,’ she says. ‘But what on Earth is keeping him?’ The delay, it seems is because he’s an octopus – and as you’ll learn over the next few minutes of the game, everything from putting on a tie to walking down the aisle is infinitely more challenging when you’re a cephalopod pretending to be a human.” From The Verge: Video Games Are Weird Again.
- “I will store your liquid nitrogen tank in a cool, clean, dry, dust-free, well-ventilated area of my surgery. I will hold the freezing straws in my armpit so as to warm them to an appropriate bodily temperature, and I will smear a drop onto a glass slide to check to see that you’ve ordered healthy sperm. But I will not, ever, under any circumstances, taste.” Sabrina Estabrook-Russett in Modern Farmer: Farm Confessional: I Was a Pig Semen Catcher.
- “Ultimately, we are up against the problem of consciousness. Like all subjective experience, pain remains private to each individual, leaving us only with educated guesses.” From the Washington Post: Do Lobsters and Other Invertebrates Feel Pain? New Research Has Some Answers.
- “At a certain point in the process we’re looking at each other going, ‘I can’t believe they’re letting us do this,’ so pretty much the whole thing – we definitely couldn’t believe it. We kept expecting resistance, but there wasn’t any.” That’s the director of Between Two Ferns talking about the day the president was on the set. The interview is an absolute must-see. Watch it on YouTube.
And in case you missed it, check out The Weekly Column. This past week examined Florida’s unconscionable use of a bright-line IQ score cutoff to identify defendants with intellectual disabilities for purposes of capital punishment. Read the Column – A Death Row Inmate’s Life Should Not Hinge on an IQ Test.