Imagine looking at your paycheck and knowing it’s not enough money to pay the rent on time or buy groceries for your family. Unfortunately, too many hard-working Texans face this situation.
In 2013, 39 percent of our state’s population lived in a low-income household. That’s nearly 10 million Texans who are potentially making difficult choices about cutting back on housing, food or transportation despite working hard. In Austin it’s more than 300,000 people, or 36 percent of our city’s residents.
It’s tempting in Texas to believe that our growing economy protects us from rising poverty and growing inequality. It’s true that of the 5 million jobs created in the U.S. during the 21st century, more than 2 million were created here in Texas.
But it’s also true that the Texas economy relies on a larger share of minimum- and low-wage jobs than most other states. We all know that a family of four cannot get ahead earning $24,000 per year. Yet this is the equivalent of what approximately 31 percent of working Texans earned in 2013. And these aren’t just teenagers working summer jobs. Less than 1 in 10 minimum wage workers in Texas is younger than 19.
In 2014 more than 600 economists, including seven Nobel Prize winners, told Congress and the president to increase the minimum wage. They cited recent and important developments in the research showing that a minimum-wage increase could stimulate the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings, raising demand and job growth.
Support isn’t coming only from economists. A poll last summer of small business owners, the majority of whom were Republican, found that 61 percent supported raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and adjusting it annually to keep pace with the cost of living. Those business owners recognize that employees are also customers. As the cost of living jumps faster than wages do, workers become unable to spend enough to help drive economic activity. They also know that when workers are paid a higher wage, they are more likely to remain on the job, reducing costs in hiring and training for new employees.
Many states and cities across the country have already raised their minimum wages above the federal level of $7.25 an hour. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in Texas would positively affect more than 2.3 million people, including approximately 100,000 people in Travis County. But Texas state law currently prohibits cities and counties from setting a minimum wage beyond their own employees and contract personnel.
Why deny city residents and their elected leaders the ability to adjust wages locally? It is unacceptable that we cannot decide for ourselves what our minimum wage will be, particularly in a city such as Austin where the cost of living is rising quickly.
Tell your legislators that it is time we had control over setting minimum wages for our cities.
This was published earlier in the Austin American-Statesman on February 11th, 2015.