By some measures, the Texas economy is strong. It’s strong because of our entrepreneurial spirit, our pro-business climate, and millions of hardworking Texans. It’s also true, however, that the economy isn’t working for a lot of folks.
Housing prices, for instance, are killing most minimum wage earners, according to a new study. Texans earning the state’s minimum wage of $7.25, the study found, must work at least 90 hours a week to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment.
Charlie Duncan, advocacy directory at Texas Housers, a nonprofit group that focuses on affordable housing issues, told The Signal that while some Texans are indeed working 90 hours — 90 hours — a week, most are simply forced to make sacrifices.
“They’re just making other cost cuts in their life, whether that’s cutting out meals, or healthcare, transportation, or whatever it might be,” Duncan said. “It manifests itself in a lot of ways and ultimately people are just really burdened and dealing with a lot of stress because they’re one major catastrophe from their life falling apart.”
GOP exacerbating the problem
Duncan said one of the biggest affordable housing issues facing low-income Texans is the discrimination they face in the housing market for relying on federal funding to help pay rent.
And courtesy of Republican lawmakers in 2015, Texas is now one of two states that allows landlords to turn away potential tenants because they use housing choice vouchers.
Low-income Texans pay 30 percent of their paycheck towards rent, and if exceeds that, the federal government covers the rest, up to a limit. When asked how the Republican-led state legislature and the governor handled affordable housing issues this past session, Duncan said, “at best, it’s not on their radar at all.”
Case in point, three affordable housing bills filed this past session by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez of Austin— including one to bill to repeal the 2015 law that allowed landlords to deny vouchers— never made it out of the Republican-led Committee on Urban Affairs.
Bringing home more bacon
Expensive housing is only one part of the problem facing Texans earning minimum wage. Another problem is the minimum wage itself.
“The clearest solution is, straight up, that people just make enough money to pay for housing,” Jonathan Lewis, a policy analyst for the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities, told The Signal.
The Lone Star State is among the states with a growing rate of income inequality.
Texas is one of 21 states that has chosen to not raise minimum wage above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, last updated a decade ago. Democrats in the U.S. House just voted to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, but it’s unlikely the Republican-led Senate will allow it to become law.
Texas Republicans have insisted that raising the minimum wage would be the end of the state as we know it, but those fears are manufactured (like the other times when Republican say the sky will fall and it doesn’t).
“This fear that businesses are going to shut down or leave hasn’t really come to fruition in these places that are raising the minimum wage,” Lewis said, adding that federal minimum wage has been increased in the past without such consequences.
Research by the CPPP shows that across all metro areas in Texas, families need to be earning $20 an hour to afford basic necessities, including rent, food and child care.
If the reality that people work 90 hours a week at more than two full time jobs is “shocking,” said Lewis. “If it’s not, you should ask yourself why.”