Friday, August 07, 2015

Congratulations on not really solving anything

It's a feel good moment.
Anyone working for a company that gets significant contracts or subsidies from city government in New Orleans will have to be paid at least $10.55 an hour starting next year.

City Council members unanimously approved a “living wage” ordinance for those workers on Thursday, couching the measure as a blow against inequality and a moral duty for the city to pay its residents a decent salary and to put employees performing public functions through private companies on a more equal footing with their government counterparts.
Hey some folks got a raise.  Not a lot of folks. Only people working for companies who have contracts with the city worth $25,000 or more. Also, while this will mean a raise for some folks and that's good news for them, it's not, you know, great news.

More importantly, for the majority of these workers, $10.55 is definitely not a "living wage."  Here is MIT's Living Wage Calculator. This is what it does.
The living wage is defined as the wage needed to cover basic family expenses (basic needs budget) plus all relevant taxes. The living wage calculation does not include publicly provided income or housing assistance. Values are reported in 2014 dollars. To convert values from annual to hourly, a work-year of 2,080 hours (52, 40 hour work weeks) is assumed. The basic needs budget is calculated as follows:

Basic needs budget = Food cost + child care cost + (insurance premiums + health care costs) + housing cost + transportation cost + other necessities cost
The tax values are applied to the basic needs budget to calculate a living wage as follows:
Living wage = Basic needs budget + (basic needs budget * (taxes))
According to the calculator, in Orleans Parish, $10.55 is below "living wage" for most people's family situations.  In fact, the type of only household for which this wage qualifies is livable is one with two childless adults.

The reason this is important is because, even after the mayor signs this ordinance and it goes into effect, the minimum wage for city contractors will still be substandard. And this says nothing at all of the greater number of minimum wage workers not employed by city contractors still making the even less liveable $7.25 (not liveable for any household type, btw.)

This means there's a lot more work to do in the interest of promoting a truly liveable wage in the city of New Orleans.  Only now when organizers come back to petition their councilpersons the momentum will be blunted by the fact of this recently passed this ordinance. "We did that already," they'll say just as they get back to figuring out how to legalize Airbnb and force the cost of living even higher. 

Of course, if we can celebrate 10 years of gentrification and disaster capitalism as some sort of uplifting "recovery," then it follows that we'll pat ourselves on the back over a raise from poverty into poverty.  It's all the same to the politicos, though. They passed something with the words "living wage" in it. Congratulations.

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