More than half the states have raised their minimum wages above the federal rate, while the richest 1 percent have consumed an increasing share of income growth. But little has been done to prop up the stagnant wages of the middle class, whose real wealth is lower than in 1969.
It's no coincidence that middle-class incomes have barely improved since the federal government began letting overtime standards lapse in the 1970s. Back then, more than 65 percent of Americans were required to be paid at the overtime rate - 1 1/2 times regular pay - for working more than 40 hours a week. Today that's down to 12 percent. More workers aren't taking overtime because they can't.
Workers are automatically eligible for overtime at annual salaries of no more than $23,660 - barely above the poverty line for a family of four. That figure hasn't changed since President George W. Bush updated the rules in 2004 without adequately addressing inflation. The result is that "millions of middle-class and even lower-middle-class workers are working overtime and not getting paid for it," according to the Economic Policy Institute.
If administrations had updated the overtime threshold to account for the cost of living, about 6.1 million workers earning up to $51,168 a year would be eligible for overtime today.
Fortunately, the Obama administration is retooling the overtime threshold. Unfortunately, it may not do enough. It should raise the threshold substantially and hitch it to the cost of living.
The Labor Department is also looking at the types of jobs that qualify for overtime. Too many are misclassified as exempt, such as so-called assistant managers at fast-food restaurants who work 60 hours a week performing all kinds of tasks, from flipping burgers to taking out the trash.