Today’s debate at the New Orleans City Council is another symbolic step in the long-term struggle for New Orleans’ working poor to earn the living wage they deserve to support their families.
Though New Orleans has enjoyed unprecedented growth since Hurricane Katrina as well as an influx of skilled young professionals, we still rank second in income inequity among 300 U.S. cities. In fact, income disparity in New Orleans has increased in recent years, according to the New Orleans Data Center.
What family can survive on $7.25 per hour, the current federal minimum wage? Most of New Orleans low-income wage earners are renters. It’s not surprise that rents, insurance taxes and general living expenses have all gone up. Thirty-two percent of New Orleans workers have been classified as holding low wage jobs according to a U.S. Census study.
More low-income New Orleans wage earners are working outside Orleans Parish than ever before and are having to spend more time and resources commuting to their jobs. New Orleans working poor also tend to reside together in areas being called “wage deserts” where workers are less educated.
Momentum has been growing across the country to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, especially in New York and California. Congressional Democrats have filed a bill that would raise the minimum wage by 2020 to $12 per hour. Congressional Republicans generally oppose such legislation. In states where Republican governors are in power – especially Southern states – it may be harder to enact such legislation at the state level.
According to new research, it is possible to raise the income of lower-wage workers modestly without reducing the overall number of jobs. Opponents in the business community would argue that minimum wage increases can be disruptive, drive up overall costs, and force small businesses out of operation.
The New Orleans job market is heavily dependent on a large number of low-paid hospitality industry employees. In areas where minimum wage increases have already begun such as Santa Fe, New Mexico and the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border, economic analyses have not shown a decrease in employment.
According to the New York Times, the federal minimum wage kept pace with labor productivity until 1968. If the federal minimum wage was raised to $12 an hour, it would bring it above the effective 1968 peak for the first time.
The Economic Policy Institute recently profiled the typical worker who would be affected most by an increase in the federal minimum wage. The study showed the big winners would be women, younger workers less than 25 years old, white workers rather than black, Hispanic or Asian, and those workers with only a high school diploma rather than no diploma or college-educated.
Increasing the minimum wage is not the only way to lift low-income workers out of poverty. Earned income tax credits are another option. Either way, all workers deserve to earn a living wage and live with dignity and respect.
TRUMP TO SHINE IN TONIGHT’S PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE ON FOX TV
We’ve been enjoying the political theatre of this year’s presidential campaigns. Tonight the audience will also observe political theatrics as Donald Trump uses this national stage to even further boost his poll numbers. Trump’s uncanny ability to tap into voter discontent has continued to amaze us. Though most Republican opponents have not sufficiently attacked Trump, Jeb Bush is waiting in the gap to emerge as the front runner when cooler heads prevail.
While Bernie Sanders continues to edge closer to Hillary Clinton, chronic Democratic voters probably love Bernie’s philosophies but believe Clinton has a better chance to beat any Republican (any Republican who poses a more credible threat than Trump, that is). Though Joe Biden might enter the fray, it’s hard to believe that Democrats would select him.
Even though he will be relegated to about 10 minutes total talking time, look out for Trump the statesman tonight. Fewer than 30 percent of America’s voters feel the country is on the right track, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll reported that 76 percent of adults question whether their children will have a better life than they did. Although the “great recession” ended in 2009, 60% of registered voters told Fox News in May that they think we are still in a recession. Finally, 432,000 Americans dropped out of the workforce in June, 2015. The federal government calls an additional nearly 2 million workers only “marginally attached to the labor force.” How will Trump and the other presidential candidates address these and many other significant issues? Tune in tonight.
Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several television programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.