Infrastructure and Economy
Although many Texans did not see the same impacts from the recession that others did across the country, the economic recovery that we have been promised by Republican lawmakers has left many behind. The lack of adjustment to the minimum wage, lack of job training programs for needed positions, and the continued rise of property taxes is causing more damage to our middle and working class families.
The minimum wage hasn’t changed since 2009, yet we have had steady inflation. Adding adjustments based on the consumer price index would help keep wages steady to the cost of living, helping people maintain financial independence. The following statistics highlight the disparity between the minimum wage and our modern economy:
- Minimum wage has lost 9.6% of its purchasing power.
- 30% of workers are “near-minimum-wage” workers who would benefit from a boost in the minimum wage. They are typically under 30, white (76%), and female (54%) with only a high school education (56%). These workers have been left out of the promise of a recovering economy and deserve to receive a living wage.
- Every 10% increase in the inflation-adjusted minimum wage reduces black and Hispanic poverty rates by 10.9 percent. Even though they are not the majority of the group that will benefit from a minimum wage increase, it affects larger proportions of their populations.
As Texas prepares for the challenges that lie ahead, we must be sure that our workforce is adequately trained to attract businesses to our state. Providing job training programs for those with a high school education helps businesses bridge the gap between entry level workers and management with “medium-skill” workers. Medium skill workers need more training than high school diplomas, but don’t require a four-year degree. The majority of jobs in the Southern United States are medium-skill jobs and that sector will only grow with time.
Although unemployment is low right now, many job holders are making low wages. Without job training programs to help bring those job holders up to the next level, they will have difficulty advancing in their careers and gaining financial independence. The other side of the unemployment coin is the percentage of the labor market that is not seeking work has increased due to their frustration of being able to find work that affords them a living wage. We should ensure our training programs work in tandem with other policy changes to help make work accessible – child care, transportation, and criminal justice reform.
Although large corporations usually are the recipients of tax cuts, small businesses are usually left in the cold. However, small businesses are the lifeblood of local economies, and need to be given the same opportunities as similarly situated wage earners for advancement. Small businesses bear the same property taxes as the homeowners around them – they are also feeling the economic burden of high property taxes caused by the Texas legislature’s shift of funding away from the public school system to charter schools. Small businesses are uniquely positioned to help local communities – they hire local employees, they rely on local customers, and they are responsive to their communities – they don’t have the luxury of ignoring their neighbors. We should be working with small businesses to reduce the burden of property taxes so they can be successful.
Underfunding of our community college programs has pushed students to for-profit universities, which has increased their student debt burden without providing the education necessary to compete in the marketplace for a position that will help them pay those student loans back. Even though we generally fund low-income K-12 schools with more state and federal dollars than their counterparts in wealthier areas, we have done the opposite with higher education. Community colleges educate a disproportionate number of low-income students yet receive far less funding than institutions that educate the wealthiest students. Legalizing marijuana in Colorado has created tax revenues that has turned into scholarships for high school graduates to attend local colleges. Texas should take advantage of the tax revenue available and capitalize on our ability to educate our future workforce.