Low-wage Poverty in New York
I donâ€™t know if youâ€™ve noticed but â€œPovertyâ€ is back. Not only in the seasonal appeals for the Needy and the Neediest, not only at the soup kitchens and food pantries, but in the statements of politicians. Indeed, we should hearing a whole lot more in the next few days. Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs said that specific agency legislative and administrative proposals would be forthcoming post Turkey day based on the anemic vision of Mayor Bloombergâ€™s Commission on Economic Opportunity (Headed by â€œI wonâ€™t rule out running for Mayorâ€ Time-Warner Chair Richard Parsons).
The irrationality of the Commissionâ€™s focus on â€œpovertyâ€ ($20,000 for a family of four, arrived at by multiplying the mid 1960s cost of food by three and making some inflation adjustments) was made clear a few weeks a go when Commission Executive Veronica M. White presented the Commissionâ€™s work to a meeting of the Childrenâ€™sâ€™ Defense Fund, Shortly after sheâ€™d finished, Melanie Lavelle, of the Womenâ€™s Center for Education and Career Advancement laid out monthly costs in New York City for a working one-parent two-child family: $1,200 rent, $1,200 childcare, $500 food, $400 clothing, laundry, school supplies, $100 transport, $180 health care ins. & $800 taxes. This totaled $4,400 or $53,000 per year. (The Center, btw, is the author of a widely-used program for calculating benefit eligibility.)
Since most everyone makes less, how do people manage? They double up into overcrowded apartments, they but substandard and unreliable child care (which gets them fired when child care falls through), they donâ€™t buy insurance and they get wage supplements â€“ food stamps, free coats and food.
D/M Gibbs acknowledged the force of Lavelleâ€™s description of the problem faced by lower-income New Yorkers, a few days ago but â€“ given the limited resources the City (read Mayor Bloomberg) has decided to devote, said that the Commission limited its plans only to those below the â€œpovertyâ€ threshold.
Grim as all this sounds, help could be on the way on Day One. James Parrott, Deputy Director of the Fiscal Policy Institute (and a Spitzer-transition-team member) explained that over the years, the proportion of low-wage earners in the work-force has increased (as good jobs vanish), wages of low earners have declined, the minimum wage has shrunk vastly in value and tax burdens have been shifted more and more to ordinary people. For example, he pointed out, that â€“ had the minimum wage in New York been indexed to inflation in the min 1970â€™s â€“ it would now be almost $10/hour. Further, he maintained, if we had the tax structure in New York of the mid-1970â€™s, 95% of New Yorkers would pay less in taxes and the state would take in $8 Billion more. Who would have thought nostalgia for Nelson Rockefeller would have been the order of the day? But it was. The Working Families Party has been a fan of the FPIâ€™s analysis and has been touting it. Their current report is fairly heavy-going and perhaps underdocumented, but knock yourself out. This gist of Dr. Parrott's view, as I understand it is that by reordering taxes and by pushing for good jobs, low-wage poverty can be addressed in NY. Will it? Stay tuned.