From the coverage of the 2016 campaign, you would think that American workers battered by economic change have finally won their moment in the political sun.
After all, Donald Trump is said to be the paladin of white blue-collar men and Bernie Sanders speaks unabashedly about the working class.
But media interest in policy initiatives that would benefit those who are struggling is scarce. It’s far more interesting, apparently, to cover the latest poll about an election that’s still a long way off, or to wax eloquent about a kerfuffle at a Democratic state convention in Nevada.
We had an objective test of this when the Obama administration announced much-needed new rules on overtime pay.
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One of the insidious trends costing workers a lot of income has been the fake reclassification of even relatively low-paid employees as “managers,” which deprived them of overtime pay.
This was facilitated by the Labor Department’s failure to update the relevant rules, last altered in 2004. The change over time has been dramatic: Where more than 60 percent of salaried workers qualified for overtime in 1975, just 7 percent do now.
Under the 2004 rules, salaried workers could be denied overtime pay if they earned more than $23,660 a year.
The Obama administration raised this threshold to a more reasonable $47,476 a year, which the Labor Department estimates will make 4.2 million more workers eligible for overtime.
Whenever government acts to increase the bargaining power or pay of workers, free market fundamentalists insist that terrible things are bound to happen.
On cue, House Speaker Paul Ryan declared the overtime rule was yet another Obama regulation that would be “an absolute disaster for our economy” and pledged to fight it.
I truly hope he tries. Let’s get members of Congress on record about overtime. And perhaps a big debate would force more coverage of this issue – and also get the media to press Trump about where he stands.
We’ll hear lots in the coming months about the rise of “populism.” But unless this talk is harnessed to policies that provide real help for actual people, it will have all the depth of a splenetic, ill-considered tweet.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @EJDionne.