One of the commonest questions I get asked about wage work is "Why is there so much wage theft these days?"
The answer to this is more complicated than most people could bear to hear so I usually reply, "Hey, how about them Dodgers?" or something similar. Very few humans other than policy wonks would ever want to hear the book-length response that the question (about wage theft, not the Dodgers) requires.
But because you're here and can leave whenever you want, I'll try to give a decent answer in condensed form.
But first of all, there is no such thing as "wage theft." The term is a neat phrase coined by left-liberal troublemakers (like me) to ratchet up the category of wage-deprivation to the status of a criminal act. This was done so that the public would begin to pay attention to the issue. Because it didn't seem to matter much to them that jillions of dollars in wages were essentially stolen from people who had worked for that money. "Wage theft" is also neater and rolls off the tongue better than the collection of terms and acronyms that more accurately describe the various categories of pay deprivation.
What we (or you) call wage theft is almost always either the failure to pay a statutory minimum hourly rate or the overtime rate required after a certain number of weekly (federal) and/or daily (California) hours. That's really it: the employer has either paid or not paid these two or not. It is an easy thing to categorize: either you got paid right or you didn't, in two basic categories.
Now that we have that established, the question becomes why workers aren't paid minimum wage and/or overtime in accord with the law. And that has something to do with workers and something to do with their employers. We'll go over both of these, if you're still awake.
Some employers cheat on wages. A few make mistakes regarding payroll requirements that end up cheating workers. You will note that these mistakes seldom work in favor of the employee, though I have known this to occur.
Workers are sometimes cheated out of wages. The standard concept of this is that the employer has the obligation to pay correctly but has the power to avoid doing so, and is therefore the only responsible party in the relationship. A short span of work in the field will show anybody but the most deluded lefty that this is not always the case. While the boss has to pay and is ultimately responsible for nonpayment, the worker quite often takes a role in his/her own nonpayment. Shocked? Good. I was too, but that was three decades ago and I've gotten used to it. If you read these pages you should prepare yourself for regular doses of ambiguity, stark and unpleasant reality, and above all, frustration. Because this work is frustrating in the same way that any investigative work can be. Your perpetrator is occasionally a victim; your victim is often enough a participant in the offense, and those looking for stock heroes and villains will bail out of the field pretty quickly. The only constant is the law--or would be, if there were only one law, or if the existing laws were simple and unambiguous. But they're not and that's the real world.
So why all the wage theft? Because it pays. And because the risk and penalties are not severe or threatening enough to deter violators. Briefly put, you make money cheating and you probably won't get pinched.
And what about enforcement? That's another problem, and if it wasn't I wouldn't have had a job all these years. Enforcement of wage laws is rather like that which controls highway speeding, and I don't need to elaborate on that.
But is wage theft more common now than before? I would say yes--and no. Both of my responses will be discussed in detail later in these pages, if you can take the reading. I'll break down the issues so that we can approach them in the best way. Because there's a lot of complexity, ambiguity and just plain blank space in this wage theft universe. If you're shaking your head now we're on the right path.