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minimum wage

Is there some fretting about Mayor Turner?

Maybe? I don’t know. I guess it depends on how you define “fretting”.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

The resignation of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s top deputy – a social justice advocate and one of the mayor’s few confidants in a sea of senior staff appointed by the previous mayor – is fueling worry among aides and allies about the administration’s commitment to the progressive policy goals on which he campaigned.

Turner for months has downplayed his unusual decision to entrust much of the implementation and communication of his policies to his predecessor’s staff, urging focus on big-ticket accomplishments, such as bringing a pension reform deal to the state legislature, soothing tempers on City Council and closing last year’s $160 million budget gap.

However, chief of staff Alison Brock’s departure just 15 months into Turner’s term has stoked renewed angst among supporters who think Turner has not championed the progressive platform for which they worked to get him elected.

“We’re a little concerned, because she was that voice at the table, so we were confident our concerns were being heard,” said Tarsha Jackson of the Texas Organizing Project. “Now, we’re just hopeful the mayor gets someone that shares his vision, the vision that he had when he ran for office. We don’t have an ally in the mayor’s office right now.”

Jackson, who met and befriended Brock in 2004 when she was Turner’s legislative aide, said TOP’s attempts to reform city economic development policies have stalled, despite Brock’s support.

Labor leader Linda Morales said the same of her efforts to push an ordinance asking city contractors to provide better wages, community engagement and job training.

“Labor wants to be a partner with the mayor,” she said. “We want him to speak to his staff and get on the program with us because it’s his agenda we’re trying to push.”

Turner distinguished himself as a candidate on such issues, calling for a higher minimum wage and pushing the city to require recipients of tax incentives to pay higher salaries. He also decried Houston’s economic inequality, stressing the need to “build a city for the middle class.”

Despite maintaining similar rhetoric in office, the mayor has hesitated to bring forward sweeping progressive policy proposals. His much-hyped “Complete Communities” plan aimed at revitalizing Houston’s under-served neighborhoods, for example, still awaits implementation. As for employee benefits, the city passed an ordinance last year suggesting companies seeking tax breaks offer additional benefits but did not require them to do so.

“The mayor is being cautious, in my opinion maybe too cautious. He’s got issues he wants to pass at the state Legislature, so he’s trying to make his way through the land mines without having folks hurt his possibility of passing pension reform,” said Morales, of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. “I understand that totally, but there’s other things I know, as a collective, progressives want to move.”

The mayor bristled at any perception of sluggish progress.

“Compare my track record with any previous mayor, and if they did as much. Name me one mayor in the last 20 years that has brought forth a pension reform package to this point. … Name me one mayor that has attended more events than I have,” Turner told reporters. “Even though I came in on a very close vote, I have governed in a very uniform, universal fashion.”

Texas Southern University political scientist Jay Aiyer largely agreed.

“Other than (former Mayor Bob) Lanier, he’s probably the most successful first-term mayor I’ve seen,” said Aiyer, who served as former mayor Lee Brown’s chief of staff.

I get Tarsha Jackson and Linda Morales’ concerns. Mayor Turner did run a progressive campaign, and he did talk about a lot of non-pension things. To be fair, that was in part because the other guy was talking about it more than enough for everyone. Mayor Turner was always going to have to deal with that, and I feel like lots of things are sort of waiting in the wings until a pension bill gets through the Legislature. (Assuming one does; if that doesn’t happen, it’s hard to say what comes next.) That was basically the theme of look back at Year One story on the Mayor. I think it’s fair to say that if he gets a win on this big issue, it not only restores a lot of oxygen for everything else, it gives him some momentum and capital to push for things that will generate significant political opposition, which includes a lot of the agenda Jackson and Morales are hoping to see get enacted.

I recognize that it sucks to hear that these progressive items that Mayor Turner campaigned on have to wait. It’s far from the first time that has been the message, and I’m sure Jackson and Morales have lost count of the number of times they have heard it. I don’t know what else to suggest other than if you think Mayor Turner is still basically the same person as Candidate Turner was, you’ll need to have faith that he will do as he said he would. Easy for me to say, I know. The other thing I could add is that given the anti-local control nature of this legislative session, there are strategic reasons for waiting till after sine die to roll out a plan for an increased minimum wage or the like. Again, I know what that sounds like. Jackson and Morales clearly understand how and why things are. A little reminder to the Mayor that they’re still here seems like a reasonable strategy. A press release from the Mayor in response to this story is here.

Stop the “Save America’s Pastime Act”

Pay minor league players a livable wage, I saw.

When you think of overpaid athletes rolling in the dough at the expense of others, baseball players in the minor leagues are not usually the first people that come to mind.

That is, unless you happen to be U.S. Representatives Brett Guthrie (R-KY). Last week, he introduced a bill misleadingly called the “Save America’s Pastime Act,” with the sole purpose of keeping Minor League Baseball (MiLB) players from federal minimum wage and overtime requirements.

Initially, this was presented as a bipartisan bill along with Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL). However, on Thursday she announced that due to the backlash, she was withdrawing her support after “several concerns about the bill have been brought to my attention.”

According to a release on Guthrie’s website, Major League Baseball (MLB) should be given credit for offering a “paid path to the Major Leagues,” rather than relying primarily on the NCAA to serve as a developmental league.

“If the law is not clarified, the costs to support local teams would likely increase dramatically and usher in significant cuts across the league, threatening the primary pathway to the Majors and putting teams at risk,” the statement warns. “The impact on teams could also have a significant, negative economic impact on businesses and workers that rely on Minor League baseball.”

This reasoning is alarmist at best. After all, minor league baseball players barely make enough money to get by as it is. According to Deadspin, “Since 1976, MLB salaries have risen 2,500 percent while minor league salaries have only gone up 70 percent. Players in low-A ball start at $1,100 a month, while AAA players earn $2,150 per month.”

While baseball games only last a few hours, between travel and training, practices, and promotional appearances in the community, most players in the minor leagues are working far more than 40 hours a week. Minor league players work five months a year chasing after their major-league dreams, and yet very few of them earn enough to cross the federal poverty line. Apparently, though, they’re the ones who are threatening the future of baseball as we know it.

The “Save America’s Pastime Act” insists that ticket sales and local community sponsors pay the salaries of the players in the minors. In fact, it’s actually billionaire MLB owners that are financing these salaries, as a way to develop future talent for their lucrative big-league teams.

“It’s despicable. You have billionaire major league owners working with millionaire minor league owners to add to their pockets more, and at the same time you have minor leaguers who are making below the poverty wage,” Garrett Broshuis told Sporting News. “You’re talking about a group of guys whose salaries start at $1,100 per month, and they’re only paid during the season. They’re not paid during spring training. They’re not paid during instructional leagues.”

There was a lawsuit filed in 2014 alleging that pay in the minor leagues violates fair wage and overtime laws in California; Broshius is of of the attorneys involved in that. There’s really no argument I can think of for this legislation, and plenty of arguments in favor of paying minor leaguers a salary they can live on. Sure, some of them will strike it rich in the big leagues, but the vast overwhelming majority of them won’t even get close to that. They deserve to be able to make a living. MLB and its owners have more than enough to make that happen. Pinstripe Alley, the Sporting News, SB Nation, For The Win, and the Press have more.

You’ll take lower pay, ladies, and you’ll like it

From Lisa Falkenberg;

Over at the Wall Street Journal, a 25-year newsroom union pay analysis found women earning 13.2 percent less, a finding that prompted the chief executive of parent company Dow Jones and Co. to vow an urgent review of salaries.

Back in Texas last week, Gov. Greg Abbott gave a decidedly less urgent response when a reporter asked about equal pay.

Abbott said it will happen as more women reach top posts in Texas businesses and start enterprises of their own, the Houston Chronicle’s Bobby Cervantes reported.

Ah, but there’s the rub, part of it anyway: promotion. It would have been the perfect moment for the governor to encourage businesses to promote more qualified women. But he failed to make the point, or, to make any sense at all.

“It’s essential that women get more involved in the business arena and that women be able to elevate pay in Texas,” Abbott was quoted as saying. “It’s going to be women who are going to be getting the pay and charting the course.”

Huh. Yeah.

Abbott’s non-answer was particularly hollow given the setting: he was announcing the expansion of his Commission for Women, increasing the number of women on the panel and ordering it to tackle weighty issues such as STEM-based education and access to health care.

Important issues, sure. Missing from the list: equal pay.

[…]

During his campaign against state Sen. Wendy Davis, Abbott acknowledged that he agreed with former Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to veto a state version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act. He argued women are already protected federally, but proponents of the legislation said it would have made suing over pay in state courts cheaper and faster for Texans.

Given the bill’s narrow scope, it wouldn’t have made a dent in pay inequity in Texas. But publicly opposing the bill sent a message about the former attorney general’s priorities.

That message came just as the San Antonio Express-News’ Peggy Fikac reported that female assistant attorneys general in Abbott’s office, on average, were paid less than men in the same classification. Abbott’s office cited the men’s experience, but the figures it provided showed there wasn’t always a direct correlation.

As Fikac reported: In several categories, women, on average, had more years of service, had been licensed longer, or both, but were paid less.

Abbott may truly believe there’s nothing government, outside of the courts, can and should do about equal pay. If so, he’s wrong.

The problem has many causes, from men and women choosing different jobs, to women bearing more family responsibilities, to women’s reluctance to negotiate, to real cognitive bias: the perception that women aren’t as competent or don’t work as hard.

Joseph Fishkin, a law professor at the University of Texas who focuses on employment discrimination, also mentions the “maternal wall,” which he describes as “the way we set up jobs and career paths to make it impossible to advance while having serious family responsibilities.”

Fishkin says government could do a lot about the gap if it wanted to. It doesn’t have to be passing the nation’s toughest equal pay law, as California did. Although that would be nice. For one: paid family leave and/or paid sick days, which would allow more women to stay in jobs and advance while caring for family.

Fishkin also mentions supporting a higher minimum wage, which would reduce the pay gap at the bottom, since those workers are overwhelmingly women.

Conveniently enough, Greg Abbott opposes all of those possible remedies. So we could say that he supports equal pay for women the same way he supports improving access to health care by opposing Medicaid expansion.

From the DMN editorial board:

A data crunch by The Morning News’ J. David McSwane this weekend revealed that if you are a woman, you’re making less than the white male colleague sitting right next to you doing a similar job. If you happen to be a minority woman, you’re making even less — particularly in higher-level jobs.

Not only is that blatantly unfair, but it’s been illegal for more than 50 years.

Even more troubling: Over the last decade, Texas’ gender gap has only widened.

Today, women in government make 92 cents for every $1 a white man makes, down 2 cents from 2006, The News’ report showed. Black women make 84 cents, down 2 cents. And Hispanic women make 82 cents, down 5 cents.

It’s obvious what that does to a paycheck today; just imagine how that inequity is compounded over time. And the effect it has on a woman trying to envision long-term career growth.

How’d we get here? The inequities are caused by an economic stew, including that women more often sign up for lower-paying jobs and white men more often get top-paying jobs.

Take a look at the recent recruiting and hiring done at Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office. Instead of posting two of the highest-paid positions in his office — as state law dictates — Paxton personally approached two hand-picked outsiders for the jobs. Both white men.

Paxton, the state’s top law-enforcement official, says the law allowed him the flexibility to simply appoint Jeff Mateer to assistant attorney general and Marc Rylander to communications director without opening the top jobs to others.

That smacks of cronyism. And such an unlevel playing field — where a qualified woman or minority never even had an opportunity to apply — points to one reason women’s paychecks still lag behind.

And hey, great news: Paxton just hired another crony to be his Chief of Staff. Because clearly there was no one within the office of the AG who was qualified for the job. That’s just the way these things work out, you know? But don’t worry, I’m sure the magic of the free market will solve this problem any day now.

More focus on inequality

Good to see.

As Houston’s mayoral candidates spar over the city’s largely agreed upon top issues – finances, infrastructure and public safety – a fourth policy concern is percolating: economic inequality.

Concerns about disparity underpin discussions about the city’s revenue cap, development incentives, education, even which roads to repair and when.

Yet, when it comes to policy solutions, candidates have offered few concrete proposals.

Only state Rep. Sylvester Turner has placed inequality front-and-center in his campaign, though his suggestions come with few implementation details.

“We cannot create or allow to be created two cities in one, of haves and have-nots,” Turner said in a recent interview. “You have to build a city for the middle class.”

Among the 50 largest U.S. cities, Houston ranks 15th for income inequality, with the top 5 percent of earners making 11.8 times that of the bottom 20 percent, according to a recent Brookings Institution study.

Census data also shows about 22 percent of city residents lived below the poverty level in 2014.

“We’re under this illusion in Houston that because people are working, that they’re not in poverty, which is simply not true,” said Ginny Goldman, executive director of the advocacy group Texas Organizing Project.

Nationwide, big city mayors have sought to address economic inequality with initiatives ranging from raising the local minimum wage to implementing universal pre-kindergarten.

In Texas, however, state law prevents cities from increasing their own minimum wages, leaving local governments to pursue such strategies as raising municipal workers’ salaries or creating special taxing districts for neighborhood development.

See here for some background. This is about making sure Houston stays an affordable, livable city for all of its residents. There are things a Mayor can do about that – to encourage and incentivize affordable housing, for instance. Pursuing a local pre-k program, as was done in San Antonio and as has been discussed in Harris County, is another. The problem has to be part of the discussion before any solutions can be. I’m glad to see that happening.

Highlighting wages in the Mayor’s race

From the inbox:

Coalition Calls on Next Mayor to Raise Minimum Wage for Publicly Funded Projects

Today, a coalition of community and labor organizations staged a tour of of sites that received tax dollars to tell the story of how the city subsidizes the creation of poverty jobs.

“Of the City of Houston’s 35 economic development tax-incentive deals with developers between 2004 – 2014, only 7 had any job promises,” said Feldon Bonner, a member of the Texas Organizing Project at the press conference that kicked off the tour. “None of the deals included language about the quality of the promised jobs, and only one has provided reports to the City on its job creation deliverables. This is unacceptable.”

The tour started at the Westin Downtown, formerly known as the Inn at the Ballpark, for which Landry’s received $2 million dollars in tax giveaways, and despite failing to provide the 125 jobs promised, the city council voted to allow Landry’s to keep the incentives.

“These tax deals are not going to mom and pop businesses. They are not going to small, women-owned, minority owned or disadvantaged businesses,” said Pastor David Madison, a TOP leader. “Tillman Fertitta, CEO, chairman and owner of Landry’s has a net worth of $2.3 billion. Yet Landry’s is one of the region’s largest poverty job creators paying its more than 10,000 service and restaurant workers in the Houston area low wages.”

The next stop was at Ainbinder Heights, a development anchored by Walmart, and includes a McDonald’s and Taco Cabana. The city awarded Ainbinder $6 million in tax breaks for property improvements. The agreement between the city and Ainbinder spans 48 pages, yet the city failed to negotiate any specific commitments for the number and quality of jobs or any other meaningful community benefits.

“Let’s not forget that Walmart is the largest corporation in the world! And the Walton family is the richest family in America with a net worth of $149 billion dollars. Do you think they need our tax incentives?,” Florence Coleman, a TOP leader, asked the community members present. “Do they deserve our tax incentives? The average Walmart associate makes just $8.81 per hour. Nationally, taxpayers are already footing a $6.2 billion bill in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing for Walmart employees who can’t provide for their families because of the low wages Walmart pays them.”

The final stop was at the Astrodome, a project that will probably receive tax dollars. County Judge Ed Emmett has traveled around the world to put together a plan for its reconstruction that includes water park, theater & trails. But there is no plan to assure that the jobs created by this project pay well and have benefits.

“The Astrodome was built by union workers back in the early 1960s, and we’re proud to have contributed to it,” said Paul Puente of the Building Trades Union. “And our elected officials have the obligation to leverage our public dollars effectively so projects like the Astrodome redevelopment provide good jobs that pay at least $15 dollars per hour or prevailing wage, whichever is higher. Jobs that provide training and benefits. And to make sure African American and Latino families in struggling neighborhoods have access to these jobs by including local hire requirements and second chance provisions.”

The coalition staged the tour today to so that Houston’s next mayor makes higher wages a priority.

“We are here today to make sure the mistakes of the past are not repeated with publicly funded development projects like the ones we visited earlier today,” Puente added. “Our local economy cannot afford one more poverty wage job. Our communities cannot accept one more poverty-wage job.”

The following organizations participated in today’s tour: Texas Organizing Project, SEIU Texas, AFL-CIO, Fe y Justicia Worker Center and Working America. Pictures can be downloaded from here: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0Bx7Fk8Qnalp0MTdtRXBMa2hyN0U&usp=sharing

That came out the same day as this story about Houston not being the affordable city we are used to it being. High housing costs are a big factor in that, but so are low average wages. Attacking that problem can have an effect on the bottom line as well. There’s only so much a Mayor can do directly about this – we already have an executive order in place establishing a higher minimum wage for companies that do business with the city, thanks to Mayor Parker – but talking about the issue and making it a point in negotiations over real estate deals like the ones cited above are two of them. I’m glad to see this coalition call attention to it.

The local minimum wage fight

Not quite on the radar here, but it could be.

After years of failed proposals in the Texas Legislature to raise the minimum wage, organizers and advocates for higher hourly wages are going local.

Leaders in two major Texas cities and two large counties will vote soon on raising minimum wages for public employees and, in some cases, for employees of private companies that contract or receive financial incentives from local governments.

In Austin, a minimum wage hike to $13.03 an hour for full-time employees will be up for consideration in September as part of the city’s proposed budget. San Antonio leaders will consider a minimum wage of $13 an hour next month. Bexar County is also poised to increase its minimum wage to $13 an hour, while El Paso County could vote next month to boost pay for its lowest-paid employees to $10 an hour. Minimum wages in those localities currently range from $9.45 to $11.66 an hour.

Local organizers affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation are hopeful all four proposals will be approved, saying they’ve received assurances from city and county officials. But for these advocates, the wins could mean sending a message to state lawmakers who have been unable to garner enough support to raise the minimum wage statewide.

“We just didn’t see anything happening on this in the legislative session. Nothing is going to happen next year … so we decided to work with local public officials in getting something passed,” said Arturo Aguila, the lead organizer for the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization and Border Interfaith organization. “We thought that might send a message to the state legislators that cities across the state are already taking the initiative to do this.”

[…]

State law preempts local governments from setting a city or county-wide minimum wage that could require the private sector to increase wages for the lowest-paid employees, but they can set wage requirements for private-sector contractors that do business with them and for local government employees.

This has left advocates for higher minimum wages to pursue local policies that require private companies that contract or receive financial incentives for local government to follow to same minimum wage standards.

In other words, keep your expectations modest. Texas has no state minimum wage, it enforces the federal $7.25 rate. If that were to go up, a disproportionate number of workers here would benefit; as the story notes, Texas has 5.7 percent of all hourly paid workers earning minimum wage or less, while the national average is 3.9 percent. The prospects of anything changing at the state level are grim or worse; Wendy Davis backed implementing a $10/hour state minimum wage law, but that wasn’t exactly a high profile part of her campaign, and it wouldn’t have gone anywhere in a Republican legislature even if she had won. Local action is the best bet for now, just bear in mind that it can’t affect everyone. Here in Houston, Sylvester Turner spoke in favor of a $15 minimum wage – Adrian Garcia also signed the TOP/SEIU platform to “incentivize living wages”, though there was no specific proposal tied to it – but that position will require some clarity. As the Observer reminds us, “city workers now make at least $12 an hour and are expected to make $13.55 by 2018″. Paying city employees a living wage, and requiring contractors who do business with the city to do the same is a no-brainer. Anything beyond that is a laudable goal with a less-clear path. Getting the discussion started is the first step.

TOP/SEIU Mayoral forum report

From David Ortez:

After the dust settled, the forum commenced with the hosts explaining the four pillars of their platform. It boiled down to: 1) Good Jobs; 2) Neighborhoods of Opportunity; 3) Infrastructure; and 4) Immigrant Rights. At the end of the forum, all the candidates would be asked to endorse this platform by signing a large four by five foot petition. Every candidate expect Bill King would end up signing and supporting the platform.

The first question was regarding the first 100 days as mayor. Garcia and Turner employed their well-rehearsed and appropriate non responsive answers explaining that each candidate would meet with TOP and SEIU Texas to set an agenda. Garcia stated that he would welcome and support immigrants. Turner also welcomes immigrants to our city but added that he would want to help out areas that been ignored. King, on the other hand, noted that he would address the redistribution of wealth in neighborhoods, citing the current Houston decision to spend millions on Post Oak to create a dedicated bus lane in the Galleria area. McVey stated that he would implement an Identification Card program for undocumented residents and supports a $15 minimum wage in the city. It was not clear if this minimum wage would only apply to municipal employees or all employees within the city.

The next sets of questions were addressed to each candidate individually. Garcia was hit hard for not standing up against the controversial 287(g) program as Harris County Sheriff. 287(g) allows trained local law enforcement officials to conduct immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions. In Harris County, this usually takes place when a suspect is booked after being arrested regardless of culpability. Some defendants then have an immigration hold placed, which results in deportation. Garcia began his response by reminding folks, “First and foremost, I worked as sheriff to keep people safe. I worked to get criminals off the streets.” Then, he attempted to spin the question by claiming that it only applies to criminals in jail. This is a false statement. He concluded his response by claiming to have fought against the program. How? I am not really sure.

King was asked which program he would cut first as mayor. He did not hesitate to throw the Houston Crime Lab under the bus and vowed to eliminate programs that provided duplicate services. McVey was asked to share his strategy for success as an unknown candidate; he began by explaining that he was unknown because he was not a career politician, then he cited his resume as someone that comes from the private sector that knows how to create jobs. Turner had the softer question of the group when he was asked to explain how he would improve the quality of jobs for employees. Turner took the opportunity to support a $15 minimum wage. He would also like to provide Houstonians with skills to obtain new trade jobs. He noted that not everyone is destined for college.

There’s more, including a few pull quotes from candidates that aren’t in the main body of the post, so go check it out. I couldn’t find any mainstream news coverage of this event, which focused on some issues that don’t get as much attention as others. Here’s the TOP/SEIU platform, called “Houston 4 All”, from their press release:

  • Good Jobs: A strong mayor can incentivize good jobs with living wages and benefits that enable working parents to sustain a family.
  • Neighborhoods of Opportunity: A strong mayor can lead a city-wide effort to help all of our neighborhoods not just survive, but thrive. That means focusing on areas with greatest need first, supporting minority homeownership, cleaning abandoned properties and lots, and prioritizing development projects in the most neglected neighborhoods.
  • Immigrant Rights: A strong mayor can create a municipal ID program to increase public safety and symbolically welcome, engage and include vulnerable populations who face barriers in obtaining IDs accepted by Houston authorities like the police, independent school districts and city departments.
  • Sound Infrastructure: A strong mayor can invest infrastructure dollars for drainage, street, and sidewalk improvements in areas where they are needed most.

I’m not exactly sure how some of these would translate to specific policy proposals, but David’s report gives some clues from the questions that were asked. I’ve been wondering when a higher minimum wage would come up in the conversation. How far that might get with Council I couldn’t say, but I’m glad to see it get discussed.

Davis proposes minimum wage increase

The Chronicle buries the lede.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Down in the polls and facing an opponent with a cash advantage, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis on Thursday took her campaign to the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she told supporters the battle for the governor’s mansion has just begun.

“No matter who you are, no matter your gender, no matter your race and no matter who you love, I am going to fight for you,” Davis told the crowd of a couple hundred college students.

Davis’ 20-minute speech broke little new ground, sticking to familiar attack lines and applause points, speaking about the struggles she faced during the early part of her life and calling her Republican opponent Attorney General Greg Abbott the friend of “insiders.”

Speaking to the audience, Davis called for raising the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 an hour.

“$7.25 an hour is $15,000 a year, and I know from experience that is not enough to support a family,” Davis said.

“It’s not even enough to afford college,” someone in the crowd shouted, to laughs from the audience.

Yeah, “little new ground”, except of course for that whole “raising the minimum wage” proposal, which while perhaps not a game-changer nonetheless swiftly drew the usual pearl-clutching horror from Greg Abbott and his cronies in the business lobby as well as plaudits from labor and affiliated groups. But who cares, all that issues stuff is boring. Horse race stories, that’s where it’s at.

The Chron did catch up on some of those details a bit later.

Calls to increase the minimum wage became the latest flashpoint in the Texas governor’s race on Friday, after Democrat Wendy Davis called for the minimum to be raised to $10.

Davis weighed into the national controversy that has fast-food workers demanding a hike to $15 an hour, from the current $7.25 an hour, during a campaign appearance at the University of San Antonio, where she had targeted Republican Greg Abbott for being a political insider out of touch with working Texans.

“I’ll fight to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 because this is a family issue,” Davis said Thursday.

A 40-hour-a-week worker currently would make about $15,000 a year at minimum wage, an amount that Davis said is too little to support a family. She repeated her stance in appearances Friday.

“From working to strip our children’s schools of more of than $5 billion that has led to overcrowded classrooms and massive teacher shortages to his opposition to giving 2.8 million Texans a raise that will help them support their families and improve our economy, Greg Abbott is fighting against hardworking Texans,” Davis said at a rally in Denton.

So yes, I think that counts as something new, and as someone who wholeheartedly supports the idea because people need to be paid a wage they can actually live on, I’m delighted to see Davis stand up for this. It would be a big boost to a lot of people who could really use it, and it polls better than you think, too. More like this, please. Statements from the Davis campaign and from the Texas Organizing Project in support of this policy are beneath the fold; Stace and Progress Texas have more.

(more…)

Abbott’s appellate brief on same sex marriage is a complete loser

How weak does your case have to be to have to rely on this?

RedEquality

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed an appeal with the U.S. 5th Circuit Monday regarding the state’s same-sex marriage ban, which was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in February.

According to the brief, Abbott said Texas can ban same-sex marriage based on the State’s interest in procreation.

The State contends that marriage between a man and a woman “increases the likelihood” that they will produce and raise their children in “stable, lasting relationships.”

“Because same-sex relationships do not naturally produce children, recognizing same-sex marriage does not further these goals to the same extent that recognizing opposite-sex marriage does,” the brief reads. “That is enough to supply a rational basis for Texas’s marriage laws.”

You can see the brief at the Trail Blazers link above. I mean, seriously, they needed how many delays to come up with that? I guess after nearly 30 courts in a row have ruled against you there are only so many arguments one can reach for, but seriously? Procreation? As many people have been snarking on Facebook and elsewhere, lots of procreation takes place outside of marriage, and lots of marriages do not include procreation. Some people choose not to have children, others are unable to for whatever the reason. Some people get married after having had a vasectomy, or a hysterectomy, or some other permanent form of contraception (often, it should be noted, for reasons having nothing to do with procreation). Some people get married after reaching an age where having children is no longer possible. And on the flip side, not to put too fine a point on it but plenty of same-sex couples, including two of the litigants in the Texas case, are raising children. Some are their own biological children, which as we know has way more obstacles for them to overcome than we straight folks have to deal with, some have adopted, and some have children from previous relationships and marriages. There’s nothing about Abbott’s argument that wouldn’t deserve to be laughed out of a first-year mock trial court.

And hey, if the state of Texas really did care about “furthering the goals” of reproduction, I can think of plenty of far more effective ways for them to do it. Let’s start with expanding Medicaid, since a significant number of births in Texas are already paid for by Medicaid. Expanding Medicaid would also provide health care for more children and their parents. You could raise the minimum wage, which would make having children more affordable for many people, and you could implement sensible and meaningful family leave policies. Did you know that in the absence of a comprehensive non-discrimination law you can get fired for being pregnant? Did you know that workplaces are not required to make any accommodations to pregnant workers? I’ll bet a law that made those accommodations mandatory would have a salutary effect on our state’s fertility rate. Truly universal pre-K would also be a boon for people who have or want to have children. Oh, and then there are all those obstacles I mentioned earlier for same-sex couples that want to have children. We could maybe do something about those, too. In fact, I’m pretty sure that losing this appeal and having our state’s hurtful and discriminatory ban on same-sex marriage struck down would do more to improve the lives of families in Texas than any bullet point in Greg Abbott’s gubernatorial platform. Lord knows, he doesn’t support any of the things I’ve highlighted here.

Which suggests the conclusion that maybe Abbott tanked the appellate brief because he came to these conclusions himself, but of course can’t bring himself to say any of this out loud. That’s would be a better and more sensible rationale for filing this idiotic brief than sincerely believing it’s a winning argument, even for the sucky Fifth Circuit. Even I have a hard time believing they’d buy something that stupid. It’s also possible that he’s making this argument because there are no other arguments he can make. In which case, too bad for him. The Trib, Lone Star Q, and LGBTQ Insider have more.

Helping the hungry of Montgomery County

I have three things to say about this.

Though many are familiar with [Montgomery County]’s growth, thanks to the wealth of The Woodlands and the coming Exxon corporate campus just down Interstate 45, fewer see the poverty and hunger dispersed across the suburban and rural communities.

School officials see it. Over the past decade, every district in the county has seen an increase in the percentage of students designated “economically disadvantaged,” according to the Texas Education Agency.

Last month, meanwhile, the Montgomery County Food Bank opened a new center, boosting its capacity from 220,000 pounds of food to 42 million pounds. The large increase was necessary to meet a rising need from the community that’s being driven in large part by an influx of low-paying service jobs that coincide with the boom, said Rodney Dickerson, the food bank’s president.

In 2013, the food bank served 25,000 to 30,000 individuals per month. This year, the number rose to 40,000 to 45,000 per month.

“The challenge is that people in Montgomery County don’t really see the poverty because they’re pockets that are hidden,” said Julie Martineau, president of the Montgomery County United Way. “Because everything looks beautiful, and the people in poverty are away from the main roads, (many people) don’t know it’s here.”

Some parts of the county, such as New Caney and Splendora, have long struggled with poverty.

[…]

Even with the school’s breakfast and lunch programs in the first half of the summer, Dickerson said, the summer months are a difficult time for many.

“For us, we see it immediately,” said the food bank president. “We see the jump as soon as school is out.”

It’s the combination of rising electrical costs to cool homes and the gaps in meals for school-age children that hurt the most in summer, he said.

The food bank operates four mobile pantries once a month throughout the county, in addition to supplying food to various daily programs and hosting periodic “food fairs.” Since the mobile pantry service began three years ago, Dickerson said, there’s been a steady increase in demand.

Growing suburban poverty is part of a national trend, according to the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. So while the country added some 12 million new poor people from 2005 to 2009, that growth tended to occur outside city limits.

“The growth we saw in poverty was located more frequently in the suburbs than in the cities,” said Carey Anne Nadeau, a research analyst who worked with the Brookings program and is now a masters student at MIT’s urban studies and city planning department. Houston ranked in the top 10 metropolitan areas where suburban poverty grew most rapidly in the 2000s, along with Dallas, Phoenix and Atlanta.

That decade also saw more concentrated poverty, or neighborhoods where more than 40 percent of residents live in poverty. In the suburbs, that sort of isolated poverty can be harder for families to combat, said Nadeau, because it tends to come with fewer affordable housing options and a lack of access to public services like mass transit.

Even suburbs that seem to be booming, like Montgomery County, experience the suburbanization of poverty, she said.

“It’s a trend regional economists talk about all the time, where higher-wage employment can create low-wage employment,” Nadeau said.

Three major groups contribute to hunger in Montgomery County, according to Dickerson: the working poor, children and seniors.

“When you experience the growth that Montgomery County has, in The Woodlands in particular, that brings the need for additional minimum wage workers,” Dickerson said.

1. While poverty is rising nationwide, much of that poverty is concentrated in southern states where not surprisingly, and not coincidentally, the safety net is all but non-existent. If it’s not from the federal government or local government – if you’re lucky enough to be in the right locality – there’s nothing to help you or your kids if you’re poor. Go ahead and starve, the governors and legislatures of these states couldn’t care less.

2. Speaking of local government, there’s nothing in this story to suggest that Montgomery County, which is overall a fairly wealthy place currently experiencing a huge economic boom, has anything to offer the folks on the bottom of the ladder. Given the nature of local government in a place like that, it wouldn’t shock me if their basic plan is to push anyone who needs services into neighboring counties that actually have a heart. I don’t know this to be true about Montgomery County – again, the story says nothing on the subject – but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true, and it shouldn’t surprise you.

3. You know what would really help all those minimum wage workers? Raising the minimum wage, that’s what. Please spare me the BS sob stories about how national fast food chains and multi-national energy companies are going to be put out of business by being forced to pay their cashiers and janitors three dollars an hour more.

What do the Mayors want?

Action on climate change.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, a bipartisan group that represents the leaders of 1,400 cities, each of which is home to at least 30,000 people, has called on the Obama administration and Congress to “enact an Emergency Climate Protection law that provides a framework and funding for the implementation … of a comprehensive national plan” to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

If members of Congress understood the urgency of climate change as well as the nation’s mayors do, we might not be in as much of a screwed-up climate situation as we are in today.

The resolution, which was approved by delegates during four days of meetings in Dallas, expresses strong support for the EPA’s draft rules on power-plant pollution. It also calls on Congress to hurry up and extend renewable energy tax credits.

Another resolution approved by the group endorses the establishment of Obama’s proposed $1 billion climate-adaptation fund.

“[R]esiliency efforts, especially those regarding water and wastewater, not only save lives and taxpayer dollars but also play a key role in preparing cities for the challenges they face from these events,” the adaptation-related resolution stated. “[C]ities currently face several barriers to properly planning and implementing resiliency efforts, including funding and financing challenges, insufficient permitting and regulatory flexibility, a shortage of data and modeling information, and a lack of communication and partnership among communities.”

[…]

Another resolution approved on Monday “encourages” the group’s members to “prioritize natural infrastructure,” such as parks, marshes, and estuaries, to help protect freshwater supplies, defend the nation’s coastlines, and protect air quality amid worsening floods, droughts, storms, and wildfires.

Laura Tam, the sustainable development policy director at San Francisco-based urban affairs think tank SPUR, described that resolution as a “statement that de-polarizes climate adaptation.” After all, Tam told Grist, “Who can argue with the premise of encouraging cities to protect waters, coasts, plant trees and improve air quality?”

A higher federal minimum wage.

Mike Rawlings oversaw many minimum-wage workers as top executive at Pizza Hut.

Now, as the mayor of Dallas, he’s trying to determine what a living wage is for city residents and city contract workers.

The minimum wage debate has taken center stage as leaders of cities big and small across the country look for ways to help fix growing income inequality.

“The biggest problem in America … is income disparity, and we see it in Dallas,” Rawlings said. He and other mayors have suffered state and federal budget cuts, watched residents’ household incomes decline or flatten and seen many new jobs concentrated in low-paying fields.

As a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour languishes in Congress, cities and states are taking matters into their own hands, creating a patchwork of minimum-wage rates across the country.

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Dallas on Monday, a majority of mayors voted to adopt a resolution to raise the federal minimum wage, sending a message to congressional leaders about how serious the issue is.

Voting has not concluded, and Rawlings said that he was going to vote for the resolution.

“It’s healthier for our economy, neighborhoods and businesses to have a living wage,” he said. “The economy has been stagnant because the lower end doesn’t have disposable income to spend.”

Marriage equality.

[Monday], June 23, at its annual conference in Dallas, the U.S. Conference of Mayors overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on federal courts, including the Supreme Court, to expeditiously bring an end to marriage discrimination against gay couples nationwide.

Dozens of mayors, including many from states that still restrict marriage to different-sex couples, including Arizona, Texas, Ohio, Colorado, Missouri, and Georgia, were among those who led passage of the resolution.

The resolution, which passed by voice vote, states: “The United States Conference of Mayors reaffirms its support of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples and urges the federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to speedily bring national resolution by ruling in favor of the freedom to marry nationwide.”

The text of that resolution is here. When would the Mayors like these things? Now would be nice.

The CFPB is almost ready to roll out payday lending regulations

I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

Whenever governments start thinking about cracking down on small-dollar, high-interest financial products like payday loans and check cashing services, a shrill cry goes up from the businesses that offer them: You’re just going to hurt the poor folks who need the money! What do you want them to do, start bouncing checks? 

A field hearing held by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau today was no exception. The young agency has been studying how the industry functions for a couple years and is now very close to issuing new rules to govern it. To start setting the scene, CFPB Director Richard Cordray came to Nashville — the locus of intense payday lending activity recently — to release a report and take testimony from the public.

The report, building on a previous white paper, is fairly damning: It makes the case that “short term” loans are usually not short term at all, but more often renewed again and again as consumers dig themselves into deeper sinkholes of debt. Half of all loans, for example, come as part of sequences of 10 or more renewed loans — and in one out of five loans, borrowers end up paying more in fees than the initial amount they borrowed.

[…]

Passing a rate cap, however, is not the only remedy. In fact, it’s not even possible: The CFPB is barred by statute from doing so.* And actually, the Pew Charitable Trusts — which has been tracking payday lending for years — doesn’t even think it’s the best approach.

“The core problem here is this lump-sum payday loan that takes 36 percent of their paycheck,” says Pew’s Nick Bourke, referring to the average $430 loan size. “The policy response now has to be either eliminate that product altogether, or require it to be a more affordable installment loans.”

Bourke favors the latter option: Require lenders to take into account a borrower’s ability to repay the loan over a longer period of time, with monthly payments not to exceed 5 percent of a customer’s income. That, along with other fixes like making sure that fees are assessed across the life of the loan rather than up front, would decrease the likelihood that borrowers would need to take out new loans just to pay off the old ones.

See here for the background. It’s fine by me if the CFPB takes a different approach than usury caps. States and localities can still do that themselves if they wish, with the CFPB’s rules serving as a regulatory floor. It’s a step forward any way you look at it, with the potential to do a lot more if needed.

Now, the installment loan plan wouldn’t leave the industry untouched. When Colorado mandated something similar, Pew found that half of the storefront payday lenders closed up shop. But actual lending didn’t decrease that much, since most people found alternative locations. That illustrates a really important point about the small dollar loan industry: As a Fed study last year showed, barriers to entry have been so low that new shops have flooded the market, scraping by issuing an average of 15 loans per day. They have to charge high interest rates because they have to maintain the high fixed costs of brick and mortar locations — according to Pew, 60 percent of their revenue goes into overhead, and only 16 percent to profit (still quite a healthy margin). If they were forced to consolidate, they could offer safer products and still make tons of money.

Meanwhile, there’s another player in the mix here: Regular banks, which got out of the payday lending business a few months ago in response to guidance from other regulators. With the benefits of diversification and scale, they’re able to offer small-dollar loans at lower rates, and so are better equipped to compete in the market under whatever conditions the CFPB might impose.

Actually, there are two other potential players here as well: Post offices and WalMart stores, both of which could do a lot to streamline this industry by aggressively competing on price. If that happens to drive a lot of small, inefficient players out of the market, too bad for them. These options would unfortunately require an act of Congress to become reality, and the odds of that are vanishingly small. But the point is that those options exist, and if the regs that the CFPB does put forth winds up squeezing a lot of the existing players, the demand will be there for bigger dogs to come in. In most cases that would be bad, but this is the exception. We’ll see how it goes. And whatever does eventually happen, let’s not forget that if we had less poverty, we’d have less demand for payday lending. Consider that yet another argument for raising the minimum wage.

We have ways of making you talk

Poor Greg.

A code of silence sounds pretty good right now

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, under fire for dodging the details on some policy questions, is filling in the blanks on issues that could be key in his race for governor against Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis.

The answers are coming as Abbott faces pressure not only from Davis but from the potential fallout of a fight within his own party.

[…]

The fact that Abbott is talking specifics at all shows the issues are having an impact. His campaign has its own timetable for rolling out proposals, and he still hasn’t answered all the questions that Davis has brought to him.

For example, Abbott won’t say if he agreed with 2011 school funding cuts. Davis filibustered those cuts and worked with other lawmakers to restore funding last year. Abbott, whose office is defending the school finance system in court, says he’s focused on the future and will have a comprehensive education plan.

Abbott also won’t say if he thinks he made a mistake by campaigning with rocker Ted Nugent, although he said Nugent was right to apologize for calling President Obama a “subhuman mongrel” (a comment that came before their campaign trip).

When and whether Abbott addresses those issues will depend on more than whether we want to know the answers.

“If they had their way, they would never talk to you unless they wanted to get a certain message out, and they needed you,” said Trinity University political scientist David Crockett, speaking of politicians and reporters in general.

For a frontrunner like Abbott, there’s particular risk, so speaking out means an issue is in play.

“The challenger has to be more aggressive, and the frontrunner is running more cautiously because it’s theirs to lose,” Crockett said. “If he starts talking about these things, it’s because there is a concern that they need to get it behind them. If they don’t see the Ted Nugent thing, for example, hurting them, they’re not going to talk about it.”

So. I guess this means the “Wendy Davis is running a bad campaign” meme is officially inactive now. I mean, if you’re forcing the other guy to do things he’d rather not have to do, that’s pretty strong prima facie evidence that you’re running a good campaign. Of course, Abbott is still trying his best to not talk about anything that isn’t in his comfort zone, which is limited to things that can be safely discussed at a Tea Party rally. Davis has had a great run with the equal pay issue, and she’s still pushing it.

After two weeks of debate in the Texas governor’s race over equal pay, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis on Monday renewed her criticism of Republican opponent Greg Abbott on the issue, saying that the attorney general’s statement that he supported the “concept” of equal pay for women wasn’t enough.

“I’ve never heard of a concept that could pay the rent, put food on the table or buy a tank of gas for the truck,” Davis said to a packed room of supporters during a campaign stop in Austin, where she reiterated several attacks that her campaign has directed at Abbott over his opposition to a Texas version of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

This will and should be a centerpiece of her campaign, but it can’t be the only thing. There are many other issues, some of which are detailed in Peggy Fikac’s story like cuts to public education and the ongoing school finance litigation, and some of which aren’t like Medicaid expansion and raising the minimum wage, that Davis needs to press aggressively. Some of them are to pressure Abbott, some are to fire up the base. There’s a risk in talking about too many things, as too many people have too short an attention span, but unlike Abbott, Davis has been aware from the beginning that she can’t play it safe. She’s got to push, to do what she can to direct the narrative, and keep Abbott off balance and on the defensive. Keep working the equal pay pressure point – it’s a beautiful thing when you are clearly on the right side of an issue – but keep coming at Abbott from multiple angles as well. Make him talk about the things he’d rather no one asked him about. BOR has more.

ECPS: Abbott 49, Davis 42

Via Texpatriate, the Emerson College Polling Society has a poll of the Texas gubernatorial race that shows Greg Abbott with a seven point lead.

According to a new survey conducted by the Emerson College Polling Society, Texas Attorney General Gregory Abbott (R) has a seven point lead over his Democratic opponent Wendy Davis (49% to 42%) in the upcoming gubernatorial election. The Polling Society is the first organization to look at the race since the March 6th primary. The survey was conducted from March 7th to March 12th, with a sample of 492 likely voters.

Abbott has a slight lead among independents and women, the two groups Democrats typically rely on in order to compete in the Lone Star State. Forty-two percent of independents currently support Abbott while 40 percent support Davis and 17 percent are undecided. Women voters are also more likely to vote for Abbott than Davis (46% to 42%).

Both candidates have wide support among their bases. Eighty-five percent of Republican say they will vote for Abbott while 8 percent prefer Davis. Similarly, Democrat voters support Davis overwhelmingly (84% to 9% for Abbott).

[…]

Data was collected on March 7th to 12th using an automated data collection system. The Texas sample consisted of 494 registered likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

No, I don’t know why it says 492 voters in one place and 494 in the other. Be that as it may, their polling page is here, their questions are here, and the crosstabs, which are a bit hard to figure out, are here (Excel file). I’ve never heard of this outfit before so I have no idea how reliable they are, but they nailed the 2013 Virginia Governor’s race (their final poll had Terry McAuliffe up by two; he won by 2.5 and the 2013 Massachusetts Senate race (they had Ed Markey up by 10, and he won by 10). That’s a lot better than some other polls I could name. According to their Facebook page, they plan to follow this race till the end, so it will be interesting to see how their results move over time and how they compare to other pollsters’ numbers. I hope they add questions about the Lt. Governor’s race as well.

Because their presentation of crosstab data is so weird, I’m not going to try to interpret it. It’s too early to make much of that anyway. I will note two other results of interest from this poll, however:

United States Senator and Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz is viewed unfavorably in his home state– 43 percent view him favorably while 48 percent view him unfavorably. Cruz is particularly unpopular among women (39% favorable compared to 50% unfavorable).

55 percent of Texans are in favor of increasing the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, while 44 percent are against it. However, 68 percent of women are in favor of the increase, while men are evenly split on the issue 50-50 percent. An overwhelming majority of African-Americans were in support of this increase (88% in support, and 12% against).

Perhaps a little food for thought for the Davis campaign. Anyway, I’ve added this result to the sidebar. I hope we get a wide variety of pollsters weighing in on this race. If nothing else, it would be a nice change from the usually barren polling landscape we face, and it might remind some folks that there is more to life than the UT/Texas Trib poll.

The coverage gap

As you may know, the intent of the Affordable Care Act was to get people below a certain income level onto Medicaid, with people at or above that income level receiving subsidized health insurance via the exchanges. Unfortunately, when the Supreme Court ruled that the Medicaid expansion mandate was unconstitutional, it meant that in states that refused to expand Medicaid people who fell below that income level but above the income level for Medicaid eligibility as things were would be left out of coverage – too poor to receive insurance subsidies, not poor enough for Medicaid. More than one million Texas adults fall into that coverage gap. Here’s a story about one of them.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Damaged discs in Irma Aguilar’s neck make it hard to raise her arms, something she must do repeatedly when stacking boxes at the pizza restaurant where she earns $9 an hour as an assistant manager.

Sometimes, her untreated high blood pressure makes her so dizzy she has to grab onto something to prevent a fall.

And she struggles with anxiety, a heart-pounding fear that can strike at any time, but especially at night, when she lies in bed and wonders how she’s going to make ends meet.

Without insurance, she worries about how she will find the money to treat her health problems, which threaten her livelihood and the well-being of her family.

[…]

Aguilar’s four children are covered by Medicaid, which provides free or reduced-cost health care. But Aguilar makes too much money – $19,200 a year – to qualify. Texas’ Medicaid eligibility requirements are among the tightest in the nation, and Aguilar has to be nearly destitute to meet them – making no more than $4,200 a year as head of a family of five.

Emphasis mine. What that means is that if you make more than two dollars an hour working fulltime, you make too much money as the head of a family of five to qualify for Medicaid in Texas. Think about that for a minute.

Still left out of Medicaid, Aguilar hoped to get insurance under the ACA, but to qualify for a tax credit to help her pay for it, she would need to earn more than she does – at least $27,570 a year. Only those earning between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level are eligible for the subsidies. Aguilar is at 70 percent.

This puts her in the gap, with neither Medicaid nor affordable health insurance.

If she could get a subsidy, Aguilar would have shelled out about $46 a month for a midlevel health plan. Without one, the cost would have zoomed to more than $200 a month, a price that puts health insurance out of her reach.

“I have to scrape by as it is,” Aguilar said. “By the time I pay rent, lights and water, there’s not much left over. Sometimes, I don’t eat so my kids can eat.”

[…]

As Texas rejected the extra Medicaid money, state lawmakers committed more resources to health care in the past session, said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

The Legislature set aside $100 million in added money for primary care services for women and an additional $332 million for mental health services, she wrote in an email.

“We’ve also developed a strong network of health centers across the state that provides low-income citizens with access to both preventive care and treatment for medical issues,” she said.

Such clinics depend on a mix of revenue – Medicaid, private insurance and patient fees – to enable them to provide care to those who lack insurance.

But those front-line providers don’t have enough money and resources to care for all the uninsured, including those in the coverage gap, said José Camacho, head of the Texas Association of Community Health Centers.

Nor can health centers provide a broad range of services, making them a too-porous safety net, others say.

“They’re no substitute for not having coverage,” said Anne Dunkelberg, a policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income Texans. “They can’t provide specialty treatment or trauma care. If you’ve been hurt in a car wreck or have a broken bone or cancer, if you need a CT scan, you’re going to be out of luck. Health centers are wonderful for primary care, but they’re not a substitute for comprehensive care.”

Ms. Aguilar has chronic conditions, as noted above, so these health centers likely wouldn’t be of much good to her anyway, assuming she could afford their fees. Even if she could, she wouldn’t be able to afford any medications they might prescribe. So she’s pretty much SOL. I personally think that Rick Perry, David Dewhurst, Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Ted Cruz, and everyone else responsible for Texas’ horrible lack of health insurance for so many of its residents should be made to personally explain to Ms. Aguilar and her kids why they don’t want her to be able to get health care. Not that I think it would have any effect on them, but maybe if they had to explain it to all one million plus Texans that they have excluded from coverage it might eventually wear them down.

I do know one way that Ms. Aguilar and the million others like her could get helped, and that’s by electing Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte this November. No guarantee that they’d be able to overcome legislative resistance, of course, but there was some sentiment for expansion in 2011, and at least they wouldn’t be adding to that resistance. And if the Lege still can’t stand the idea of expanding Medicaid, there’s another way they could help Ms. Aguilar and many others like her: Raise the minimum wage. If Ms. Aguilar earned a bit more than $13 an hour, then her fulltime salary would make it to that magic $27,500 level – which is to say, exactly at the federally defined poverty line – and she’d qualify for insurance subsidies on the exchange. Either way would be fine by me.

Raising the minimum wage in Texas

It’s all the rage elsewhere, but so far I’ve not heard anything about a movement to raise the minimum wage in Texas.

While most of the increases amount to less than 15 cents per hour, workers in places like New Jersey, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island will see a bigger bump.

Earlier this year, New Jersey residents voted to raise the state’s minimum wage by $1 to $8.25 per hour. And lawmakers voted to hike the wage by between 25 cents and 75 cents per hour, to $8.70 in Connecticut and $8 in Rhode Island and New York.

Residents in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington will see a higher wage floor due to annual cost of living adjustments.

The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, used Census data to estimate that the increases will boost the incomes of 2.5 million low-wage American workers next year.

Currently, 19 states have minimum wages set higher than the federal level of $7.25 per hour. Once the changes take effect on Jan. 1, the number rises to 21.

[…]

President Obama has been throwing his weight behind the issue. Earlier this month, the President said in a speech that it’s “well past the time to raise the minimum wage that in real terms right now is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office.”

But such legislation has a bleaker outlook if it reaches the Republican-led House of Representatives. House Speaker John Boehner has said that raising the minimum wage leads to a pullback in hiring.

Several recent polls, however, show that the vast majority of Americans are in favor of a federal minimum wage hike. A new ABC/Washington Post poll out last week shows that two-thirds of Americans support raising the minimum wage. More than one-third of respondents said they supported an increase to $9 per hour, while a quarter more were in favor of a boost to $10.

CBS poll conducted last month found nearly identical results.

For obvious reasons, I don’t expect anything to happen in Texas, even as it is an issue nationally. What I would like to see is for it to at least be in the conversation. I got that link from Sen. Rodney Ellis’ Facebook page, so that’s a start. I’m sure that when the issue does arise, we will hear a cacaphony of caterwauling about how increasing the minimum wage will destroy jobs and only go to the benefit of teenagers. Putting aside the fact that all of that is a load of bull, I welcome the debate. Let’s talk about how many of the jobs that have been created during Rick Perry’s reign have been crappy, minimum wage jobs. Let’s talk about what we need to do to ensure that Texas is creating quality jobs that pay living wages. Let’s talk about the millions of Texans who work fulltime yet live in poverty because their jobs pay so little. One ironic benefit of raising the minimum wage in Texas is that it might make a whole bunch of people that now fall into what Ed Kilgore calls the “wingnut hole” – not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid in a state like Texas that refused to expand it but below the minimum income level to qualify for insurance exchange subsidies, precisely because they were supposed to get enrolled in Medicaid – might suddenly qualify for insurance subsidies and get coverage, possibly for the first time in their adult lives. I’ll be delighted to talk about that. Raising the minimum wage polls well nationally, including among Republicans, though I haven’t seen (and couldn’t find) any Texas-specific polling on the subject. Regardless, this is an issue that Democrats need to engage on, and it’s one I think they can gain on. But we’ve got to start talking about it first. Texas Leftist has more.

Why do we want to subsidize the creation of minimum wage jobs?

That’s a question some people are asking in San Antonio.

Thankfully, the local debate over whether to grant Maruchan Inc. of Japan millions of dollars to pay people very little money to make noodles has transcended the mere question of how many workers it would employ.

And it’s heartening — in a depressing sort of way, of course — that some of us are actually worried.

We are worried because the people making the noodles would earn minimum wage: $7.25 an hour, less than a living wage.

At the risk of dampening anyone’s good cheer, here are a few more reasons for us to be worried.

Texas already ranks first in the nation for jobs at or below the minimum wage.

(Go Texas! We’re No. 1!)

In fact, 37 percent of all jobs added in Texas in 2010 paid minimum wage or less. Overall, about a third of all jobs in Texas fail to support a family of four.

Ed Sills noted the irony in his email newsletter:

What a metaphor. Ramen noodles are a classic dish for starving artists and students who have to keep their food budgets to the penny, and the minimum wage is the classic wage that forces anyone to keep their food budgets to the penny.

By my calculations, the $5.8 million county subsidy mentioned in the article would pay the 600 workers for 1,333 hours, or about eight months. ($7.25 times 600 is $4,350 an hour. $5.8 million divided by $4,350 is 1,333 hours.) Apparently, there will be basic benefits as well, so a rule of thumb might be that the county would pay the first half-year of the employees’ meager salaries.

What a crock, a clear case of “off-shoring” by Japan to the U.S. (I’m old enough to remember when the U.S. was exploiting the cheap labor in Japan for manufacturing, but somehow I don’t think these noodles will be making their way back to Japan.) I’ll give them this: as with Henry Ford, the Maruchan proprietors are making certain their workers will be able to afford to buy their product, though in this case they will be able to buy little else

$7.25 times 2080, the number of working hours in a year, comes to $15,080 for these workers’ annual salaries. That’s not a whole lot more than I got for my stipend as a graduate student in the math department at Rice for the 1988-89 academic year. I don’t much care for ramen noodles myself, but that is the kind of food one has to eat at that income level. I guess that’s better than nothing, but shouldn’t we, couldn’t we, maybe aim a little higher than that? Burka has more.