Monday, March 20, 2006

Update on the Living Wage Post

In the post just below on the Living Wage movement and the minimum wage hike, I mentioned Professor David Ciscel and his white paper “What Is a Living Wage for Memphis?”

I wanted to find out more about that paper and its provenance, so I emailed him. He was nice enough to respond.

As to writing the paper and its genesis: "No one writes such things unless they are interested in the topic.... Yes, the paper was written to influence public opinion. We felt that the issue of low wage work was not being taken seriously in the Memphis region. The response over the past 7-8 years has be[en] very good." He says "It was sponsored by the UM Center for Research on Women and the Women's Foundation. But neither provided a grant -- CROW published and distributed. The idea came from the Director of CROW -- Dr. B[arbara] E. Smith. -- in 1998."

You can see Prof. Ciscel's updated version of the paper here. Note the first paragraph:
It takes $31,284 a year or $15.64 an hour in a full-time job for a family with one adult and two children in Memphis to be self-sufficient, according to the new Living Wage 2002 study....
and these follow-up paragraphs:
The Living Wage 2002 study is an update of Ciscel's 1999 Living Wage study. In the 2002 study, the Living Wage for a family of one adult and two children is 14.9 percent higher than the 1999 Living Wage of $27,225 a year for the same family type.

The Living Wage varies depending on the size of the family. For a family of one adult and one child, the Living Wage in 2002 is $26,128 a year, up 17.1 percent from the $22,306 Living Wage in 1999. For a family with two adults and two children, the 2002 Living wage is $35,130 a year, an increase of 12.5 percent from the 1999 Living Wage of $31,220.
And then there's this kicker:
The percentage of Memphis families who do not earn a Living Wage is large, although data was not available to pinpoint the number, Ciscel said. However, according to the U.S. Census, the median household income in the Memphis area is $34,583, which means that half the households earn more and half earn less. In the Memphis area 15.3 percent of residents live below the poverty threshold, and in the Memphis city limits 20.6 percent of residents live below the poverty threshold, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
Get that? Median household income is still below the living wage for the standard nuclear family (Mom, Dad, two kids).

It's interesting to note that, according to this report, one in five Memphians lives in poverty! Why isn't this at the forefront of Memphis' problems being addressed? How can the City justify the hundreds of millions dumped into the Downtown (where the jobs produced are all service sector, low wage jobs) when the whole city faces 20% poverty?

Anyway, Prof. Ciscel adds that he's involved with MIFA and now part of the Living Wage Coalition (after writing the paper). He's also on the Board of the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center. That, to me, says a lot. I leave it to you to decide for yourself.

Again, my thanks to Professor Ciscel for taking the time to respond.

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