Position Statement on Building a Sustainable Living-wage Economy

The Challenge

The gap between minimum wages and living wages has rarely been more evident than it is today. For example, in Texas, a person earning a minimum-wage living must work 78 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom apartment.1 This often translates to working two or more jobs in effort to make ends meet. While the current $15/hour Labor Movement is making inroads in some cities and states, it is, and should be, the responsibility of local government to ensure the residents are able to make a living wage based on full-time employment. Each county has different economic needs and costs-of-living; therefore, local government is best suited for answering to the needs of its constituents.

Exacerbating the Problem

Unfortunately, municipal policies often run counter to closing the gap between minimum-wage offerings and living-wage needs. These policies may include:

  • Contracting out services to contractors that pay lower wages and offer fewer benefits than local government,
  • Offering tax incentives and breaks without regard to the quality of jobs or wages paid, and
  • Failing to hold businesses accountable when wage guarantees have been negotiated but not lived up to by those business.2

The predicament of people earning a minimum-wage income that does not allow them to make ends meet is evident here in Guadalupe County. For example, in precinct 402, the unemployment rate is 9.2%, but the poverty level is 11.6%.3 In addition to the precinct having a higher unemployment rate than the Guadalupe County average (4.0%, 2016), the fact that the poverty rate is higher than the unemployment rate suggests that, although people are working, they are not making enough to rise above the poverty level. A similar situation exists in precinct 406 and parts of precinct 401. In fact, as mentioned, Guadalupe County has a low unemployment rate of 4.0%, but a poverty level rate of 10.8% (2014). That indicates a significant portion of our population is working, but not making enough to rise above the poverty level.

Local Solutions

Unless and until federal regulations require all employers to pay living wages adjusted to the communities in which they do business, the responsibility to ensure full-time workers are paid fair wages that allow them to live above the poverty level falls to local government. As a local government candidate, I support the following policies to help build a sustainable living-wage economy for Guadalupe County:

  1. Municipalities should require living-wage offerings for its employees and from businesses to whom it has contracted services.
  2. With regard to companies opening or relocating to the area, municipalities should:
    1. Negotiate for living wages paid by the company in exchange for tax incentives or tax breaks, and
    2. Advocate or negotiate for some type of local workforce training or apprenticeship programs (by facilitating partnerships with local high schools and/or colleges and the company), through which the company is not only bringing jobs, but demonstrably investing in the community and its people.
  3. Finally, County Commissioners should actively advocate and support municipalities pursuing the above actions.

Source: National Low Income Housing Coalition

2 Chapman, Jeff; Thompson, Jeff. "The Economic Impact of Local Living Wages." Economic Policy Institute. February 15, 2006

3 Source: City-data.com

More Detail on Guadalupe County Below:
Unemployment and Poverty Rates in Guadalupe County, Precinct 4

Guadalupe County has a wide variety of industries fueling its jobs market, including manufacturing, construction and retail. As a whole, Guadalupe County has a strong current economy, boasting a lower unemployment rate (4.0% as of August 2016) than the national average (4.9%) and the state of Texas average (4.7%).

However, within the precincts of Guadalupe County, these job numbers vary significantly.

Nine out of the ten subprecincts in Guadalupe County's Precinct 4 exceed the county average for unemployment, eight of which by a margin of 2 percent or more. This strikes me as significant and worth further inquiry into likely causes and potential solutions.

On a similar note, it's also worth comparing unemployment rates to poverty level rates on a subprecinct basis. The reasoning is that if the unemployment rate is low, but the poverty level rate is high, or higher than the unemployment rate, it suggests that despite the population being employed, they are not making wages sufficient to live above the poverty level.

You can see evidence of this situation in a couple of subprecincts in Guadalupe County by looking at the chart below.

 

Living wage advocacy is an important initiative that can bring improve conditions for working people, businesses and our local economy in Guadalupe County.

Pol. adv. paid for and approved by Rebecca Tucker.
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