Why Austinites Deserve a $22 Living Wage — and How the City Can Make It Happen

City Council Member Kathie Tovo, left, City Manager Spencer Cronk, and Mayor Steve Adler listen to citizen comments during an Austin City Council meeting in 2018.
Source: Austin American-Statesman

We all groaned with frustration when Austin city officials confirmed that, as of June 6, they will open only 15 of the city’s 34 pools. Already facing record temperatures this month, Texans know what we’re up against with this summer heat. I sigh  when walking with my two small children by our beloved–and drained–neighborhood pool. It’s the same disappointment and frustration each year: “Mom, why do we have a public pool if we can’t use it?”  

When I contacted my district office in May, staff confirmed a driving reason for our closed pools is a lifeguard shortage. The Texas Legislature’s actions have hindered the city’s efforts to address this shortage innovatively. 

Vital public services like our parks, pools, and libraries are funded by tax revenue. In 2019, legislators voted to cap the ability to raise revenue through taxes at the city and county levels. A city staffer shared, “…while I wouldn’t say the tax cap is our only challenge, it does compound the challenge due to the constraining impact it has on our ability to raise lifeguard wages sufficiently to compete in the current job market.”

Many of our state elected officials would rather lower taxes to benefit their wealthy friends and corporate donors. Even though state elected officials are working against us, the state legislature doesn’t control the city budget. The Austin City Council can choose to prioritize its community members and employees in our city budget. That starts with paying a living wage. 

Austin’s growth doesn’t come without a cost to most of us who live here. The data strongly supports $22 per hour as a modest living wage in Austin––just enough to get by. Housing rental rates have doubled and the average 1-bedroom apartment costs $1,500 a month. Austin has the second-highest year-over-year rent increase nationally at 35% and home appraisal values have increased by 56%. 

Austin is increasingly inaccessible for individuals and families including the invaluable employees who keep the city running. The Economic Policy Institute Family Budget Calculator shows that a family of four in Austin needs $7,170 dollars to cover their monthly costs or approximately $42 per hour between two working adults. A single adult in Austin must earn $3,497 per month or $21 per hour to cover basic household expenses. 

Two Texas children observing their drained public pool.
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