Saturday, September 29, 2012

Wages, families, neighborhoods and the economy

At the beginning of this school year, students from the Honors College at Abilene Christian University began their very special three year course of study that will see them focus as a group on poverty in inner city Dallas.

Already my young friends have turned up ugly evidence of what affects our economy so adversely.  These bright students discovered that in several South Dallas zip codes the average household income hovers around $10,000 annually.  Hard to imagine isn't it?

If you and/or your family had to make do with $10,000 a year, what sorts of things would impinge on your life, your decisions, your attitudes and your expectations?  Hard, but very good and fair questions for those of us who are doing so much better to ask and answer honestly.

The Dallas Morning News published a story last Sunday (9/23/2012, 4B) on a group of Wal-Mart workers who have organized against the pay practices and scale of the company's wages.  The group, Organization United for Respect at Walmart, demonstrated in Dallas' Uptown neighborhood the day before the report hit the paper.  Protesters claimed that Wal-Mart didn't pay them enough to purchase the health care plan offered by the company or to participate in the 401 (k) benefit plan.

According to Wal-Mart, the average pay to its employees in Texas is $12.31 an hour.  According to the union, the company's average hourly wage for the nation stands at $8.81.

If the company is correct about its Texas employees, a person working a full-time, 40-hour-a-week job and paid for 52 weeks (both unlikely assumptions) will earn $25,605 annually.

If the union is correct and making the same assumptions, a Wal-Mart employee will earn $18,325 annually.

What is life like for households living on wages at this level?  

How do marriages fair?

What health issues do these families face?

How is the psychological health of these wage earners?

What are neighborhoods like for communities who earn wages at this level?  

How do wages affect housing stock?

Public schools?

Code enforcement and neighborhood amenities?

What  impact do wages at this level have on local economies and on economic development?

What factors are at work here to encourage or discourage the development of retail outlets?

How is job growth in these areas?  

The realities of capitalism force on us tough questions about how we might make changes to help our working poor neighbors  These realities make a strong case for the expansion of public efforts such as the Earned Income Tax Credit program.  They also argue persuasively for increased investment in public education, early childhood programs and workforce training initiatives to enhance and diversify the skills of our labor force.

Things will not improve unless we get involved and begin to insist on the needed changes.


Anonymous said...

If these employees can make more money elsewhere, what prevents them from doing so? If they can't, then Wal Mart is paying the employees wages at market.

rcorum said...

Larry, as usual you raise relevant question that should concern us all, but over and over I am left wondering if you are really going to the root of the problem, and that is the extreme issue of children born into single parent families. I am not trying to pick a fight, but rather am wondering if CitySquare has any program to address this problem. Where I preach I see it all the time. When a young teenage gets pregnant instantaneous negative consequences begin and can last a lifetime. I am thinking of one young lady in particular who has already given birth to one out of wedlock child and is expecting another. By the way, she is white. She seen little hope for her life, and that frustrates me. Are you guys doing anything and do you see it an an impediment to future financial stability?

Larry James said...

RC, you raise a good point and one that you raise often. I don't want a fight either, but I'd argue that teen pregnancy is not the "root of the problem" either. Poverty is. The abandonmenet of public schools, the amazing cuts in social services of uplift (including familiy education and planning), the scarcity of jobs training options, the list goes on and on--all symptomatic of the larger, root problem: the nation's abandonment of the poor.

Larry James said...

Anon 7:15, I don't agree. WalMart does not reflect market, WalMart is so big and thus in a position to dictate to the market about wages, as well as prices. In some communities WalMart has driven the competition out of business, especially at the mom and pop level. Consumers keep them going because most think only of the price at check out and not the longer range implications of making price the only consideration. We're all implicated. And, of course, labor unions are never to be considered! Oppression by any other name.

Anonymous said...

from Anon 7:15
Larry, your premise is built on a flawed foundation. Other retailing jobs are not the only job opportunities available. Compare with jobs in other sectors.

Nice poke with labor unions and oppression. Throw in a little social justice and you have yet another Liberation theology stew.

Anonymous said...

For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” 1 Timothy 5:17-19

Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. James 5:3-5

I think these passages are about more than failing to pay some "agreed" wage. The reference to the ox being able to eat the grain indicates the concern expresssed here is that a worker get paid enough to sustain his existence, that is, a "living wage," not some bare minimum the empoyer can get away with. Christianity and pure capitalism do not always see eye to eye.

Anonymous said...

Well, as over a hundred million deaths attest to,Christianity and communism certainly do not see eye to eye.

Larry James said...

Anon 3:32, why do you resort to the extreme? No one is arguing for Communism here. We're just asking for fairness and sharing with labor. What we have in mind was outlined nicely by James, the brother of Jesus. No one is quoting Marx or Lenin. Can we keep it real?

Anonymous said...

Yes I can keep it real, but can you?. Communism is a prevalent form of socialism, and you are advocating a communist socialist perspective of wages. Therefore I am on topic.
Whenever it suits your point, you throw in a few out of context and perspective scriptures.

Anonymous said...

To sum up your position: 1. Suggesting people be paid a liveable wage = communism. 2. Nothing about Christianity would suggest people should be paid a decent wage. 3. "100 million deaths" - what the *^# are you talking about?

You truly reside in some strange, alternate universe.

Anonymous said...

Mass killings occurred under some Communist regimes during the twentieth century with an estimated death toll numbering between 85 and 100 million.[1]
^ Courtois (1999) "Introduction" p. X: USSR: 20 million deaths; China: 65 million deaths; Vietnam: 1 million deaths; North Korea: 2 million deaths; Cambodia: 2 million deaths; Eastern Europe: 1 million deaths; Latin America: 150,000 deaths; Africa: 1.7 million deaths; Afghanistan: 1.5 million deaths; the international Communist movement and Communist parties not in power: about 10,000 deaths.

Anonymous said...

Moderate historians place these numbers at about 15 million for Stalin and 45 million for Mao (mostly starvation during hte Great Leap Forward), or 60 million. Not 100 million. More to the point - NO ONE is defending such atrocities, obviously. They are just injected in an attempt to make extremist associations. Decent wages = communism = mass murder. So if you are for decent wages, you are a mass murderer. Glenn Beck would be proud!

I notice you did not respond at all to points 1 and 2.