San Antonio is a city on the rise.
This city of almost 1.5 million people is ranked number eight for national job growth and the best Texas city for business investment, according to Forbes magazine.
However, according to a recent report by the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP), almost 20 percent of people in San Antonio live in poverty, despite an unemployment rate of only 5 percent.
Is it time to raise the minimum wage?
Raising the minimum wage is already a national issue. In the most recent State of the Union address, President Obama proposed raising the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10.
This national issue recently found a home in San Antonio. On Nov. 16, grassroots organization COPS/Metro (Communities Organized for Public Service/Metro Alliance) met at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church Civic Center to discuss raising the living wage for public employees in San Antonio and Bexar County. A higher living wage for public employees has the potential to raise wages for anyone from postal workers to school cafeteria workers to city council clerks.
Over 300 concerned citizens were present at Sacred Heart to discuss raising the minimum wage. COPS/Metro’s three-year plan, more ambitious than the national proposal, hopes to raise the publicly employed minimum wage from $11.47 per hour to just under $15 per hour.
These increased wages are referred to as living wages, or what is necessary to support living above the poverty line. Currently, only an hourly wage of $14.91 is needed to qualify for food stamps.
While Sunday’s meeting about wages was specific to public employees, a higher minimum wage could drastically benefit San Antonio residents.
Texas has made a name for itself as a pro-business state; however, it has done this at the expense of its poorest citizens by slashing wages and benefits. Texas has one of the biggest wage gaps in the nation. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the richest 5 percent of income earners in Texas collect $255,888 annually, while the poorest 20 percent collect only $17,900. The San Antonio median income of $45,524 is also below the national average of $53,046.
America has historically been called a land of opportunity, so if that’s true, shouldn’t those in low-income jobs take advantage of opportunity and work harder?
The answer would ideally be yes; however, early educational opportunities for children depend on the earnings of their parents.
In Texas, much like the rest of the nation, school funding is dependent on property taxes. For every dollar intended for K-12 education, the federal government contributes only ten cents. In cities where neighborhoods have undergone gentrification, or segregation based on income, public school opportunity can drastically differ.
As recently as Nov. 13, San Antonio city officials on the Mayor’s Task Force on Preserving Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods met to discuss how to preserve economically diverse communities. The task force, essentially a committee to prevent gentrification, was originally created by former Mayor Julian Castro and is now headed by current mayor and UTSA professor Ivy Taylor.
Taylor claimed that the best way to improve neighborhood diversity in San Antonio was not to keep rent and home prices low, but to improve the earning potential of area residents.
The mayor isn’t the only local politician to endorse raising the living wage. At Sunday’s COPS/Metro meeting, local mayoral candidate Mike Villarreal pledged to support a living wage, as did rumored mayoral candidates Leticia van de Putte and Tommy Adkisson.
When debating the minimum wage, it’s important to look at who is really affected by an increase. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average minimum wage worker is 35 years old. Fifty-five percent work full time and 56 percent are women. In San Antonio, nearly half of single-mothers live below the poverty line, according to the CPPP.
For UTSA graduates, it is unlikely that they will ever have to work a minimum wage job after earning their college degrees, but wage laws will be highly influential on the future of Texas’ business and education.
A higher living wage for San Antonio doesn’t simply mean a higher salary for low-income employees; it means a more educated future workforce and one that has a real opportunity to leave the cycle of poverty.