Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, November 17, 2005

It Ain't Just Wal-Mart

Scotty brought up the Washington minimum wage and "living wages" the other day. An AP story published today says that "living wage" jobs are hard to find in the Northwest:
Study: Living wage jobs tough to nab in Northwest
The Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — There's a wide gap between the number of job seekers and the number of open jobs in the Pacific Northwest that pay a living wage, according to a new study by a coalition of social justice groups.

The regional analysis, released by the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations on Thursday, found that the economy in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana is failing to create enough living wage jobs for those looking for work. In Idaho, 29 percent of available jobs don't pay enough to adequately support a single person without children, the study found, and 78 percent of open and available jobs don't pay enough to adequately support a single adult with two children.

"That's not too surprising. In terms of what it takes to support a household in Idaho, it's not something that can be done with one wage-earner," said John Church, a visiting economics professor at Boise State University who was not involved in the study. "A lot of jobs don't pay exceptionally well in Idaho, so it takes two people working, sometimes a job and a half each, to keep up."

The study found that the gap between available jobs paying a living wage and the number of job seekers is largest when it comes to single adults supporting two children. There are eight such adults for every living-wage job opening in Idaho, the study found, and 21 such adults for each living wage job opening in Oregon. The ratio in Montana is 14 to 1, compared to 12 to 1 in Washington.

The federation used 2004 data from agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and state Labor and Industry statistics to come up with the cost of living, the number of job seekers and the jobs currently available in each of the four states.

A living wage is one that provides enough money to cover the basic necessities, cover taxes and other obligations and save a little for emergencies, all without public assistance, said Leo Morales, spokesman for the Idaho Community Action Network, one of four state organizations that make up the federation. The living wage has increased by more than 7 percent since 2002, in part because of rising energy costs and other expenses, Morales said.

"The stark reality of the job gap is that there's just not enough out there to support Idaho families," Morales said. "The government needs to be more responsible for bringing jobs into the state."

Idaho lawmakers have made some efforts to boost wages, setting $15.50 an hour as a benchmark. During the 2004 legislative session, lawmakers enacted a $1,000 tax credit for every new job created that pays more than $15.50 an hour and includes health care. But the effectiveness of the incentive won't be clear until all the extended tax returns are in, and that won't happen until Dec. 1, said Dan John, the state's tax policy manager.

The federation is a group of four statewide social justice organizations in the Northwest Besides the Idaho Community Action Network, member organizations are Montana People's Action, Oregon Action and Washington Citizen Action.

It defined a living wage for a single adult in Idaho as $9.30 an hour. Montana was slightly less, at $9.07, and Oregon and Washington were higher at $10.77. Give that single adult two children to support, and the living wage jumps to $20.28 an hour in Idaho or more than $42,000 a year based on a 40-hour work week, and more than two dollars more an hour in Oregon and Washington.

In a family of four, both adults must bring home a combined wage of more than $26 an hour in Idaho, or more than $54,000 a year, and more than $28 an hour in Oregon.

That's far more than the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour — which both Idaho and Montana adopt. Oregon and Washington have higher minimum wage requirements, which are $7.25 and $7.35 an hour, respectively.

"The state needs to consider increasing the minimum wage," Morales said. "$5.15 an hour is just not enough for families."

But research by analysts at the Idaho Department of Commerce and Labor suggests that raising Idaho's minimum wage by a dollar an hour would only affect 5.7 percent of Idaho's work force.

The state offers a work force development training fund designed to help workers earn higher wages, said Bob Fick with the Idaho Department of Commerce and Labor. The program has been in effect since 1996, but is scheduled to end at the start of 2007 unless the Legislature decides to extend it.

"Historically, the people who are trained wind up making 27 percent more than when they started, and the retention rate is about 87 percent," Fick said.

Such programs help, but the best way for states to boost wages is by attracting a variety of jobs, said Church, the BSU professor. With more jobs, companies will be forced to offer higher pay and benefits to compete for workers.
Obviously, everyone doesn't work at Wal-Mart, so the reason the numbers of "living wage" jobs are so low is not because of them, as PARD so disingenuously claims. I really take issue with these "social justice" groups that expect anyone, regardless of capability, training, or motivation, to be paid $15.50 an hour or more. First of all, it would destroy small business as we know it. Secondly, all unskilled workers would be eliminated from the workforce and you would see mass unemployment and rioting as in France now. Lastly, whatever happened to the good old American work ethic? What happened to getting educated, working hard, and moving up the ladder? Now, like everything else, a good salary is just one more thing everyone feels they are entitled to.

1 comment:

April E. Coggins said...

Gee, I'm pretty sure those jobs in the now almost extinct logging industry paid much more than $15.50 an hour. I remember when the left wing activists promised that the logging jobs that were lost, due to their effort to "save" the forest, would be replaced with tourism jobs. I guess tourism doesn't pay as well as logging did. So now the liberals want to "fix" the problem they created by inflating wages at the cost of private enterprise.

Artificially raising wages never works as intended because it leads to increased prices and after all is said and done, everyone ends up in about the same economical position that they started with.