The Seattle Times economics columnist, Jon Talton, posted another engaging article in the March 5 edition entitled “The haves in Seattle struggle with have nots” (bit.ly/1Lv6Qc7).
For me, Talton is a must read. He seems to be this attractive oddity discovered in the business section: always challenging conventional wisdoms of the business sector and the shop-worn bromides of the Chamber of Commerce.
Journalists have reported the plight of homeless people, encampments, failed strategies, hopeful visions, etc. But in this article, Talton goes deeper to help us understand the quandary of why Seattle’s robust recovery has coincided with so many of our neighbors being left behind, challenging the theory that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Real Change operates at the leading edge in dealing with homelessness, and it is important for us to realize how fragile our national economy is. Seattle and King County are not an exception, as Talton writes.
We receive a daily blizzard of statistics from the traditional press and news stations on jobs, housing starts, national debt, wages and inflation. Most attempt to support the illusion of a successful economic recovery. But the studies, according to Talton, show that a high percentage of communities or portions of major cities like Seattle have trended worse during this recovery.
Seattle, he writes, can take some comfort that as our inequality worsens, many of those affected do have jobs, but ones that pay poorly. Seattle’s heroic effort to improve what I call the “Miserly Wage” was accomplished with a keen eye to have the broad support of the business community. But will this action have a noticeable effect for the working poor?
Personally, I am affected in two ways: First, I work with these tough issues, usually in the evenings, as board president of Real Change. And second, being retired, I work part-time at one of the jobs described below, and at a similar pay scale. At this stage of my life, I’m OK. For the many younger workers around me who rely on minimum-wage jobs as their primary income, it is a serious concern.
A report I get annually also centers me on these realities: it is a simple listing of the 157 million jobs reported annually by employers to the Social Security Administration, ranked by income stratum — low to high — with each stratum of a total of 60, showing the number of jobs, and importantly, the average wage for that particular stratum.
Often, I will ask people I meet, what do they think the average wage would be of the people in the middle of the list, in this case those at 51.5 percent? People usually guess anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000 annually. However, the report shows that the 11 million jobs at that stratum actually pay from $25,000 to $29,999 with an average of $27,467 annually, or about $13.20 per hour.
Equally critical, all of the five strata included in the 51.5 percent represent 81 million jobs, all earning less and less as you navigate each stratum below the $27,467 listed above. The average earnings of this entire lower half are in the realm of what we would consider a Third World economy.
Dwell on this: Half of our workers are working at near or below poverty wages. Half of our workers are living at the very edge of this turbo-economic, consumer-oriented economy without any ability to participate in wherever the rising boats might take them. Half of our workers continue to reaffirm the title to Michael Harrington’s nearly 6-decades-old book that ignited the war on poverty, “The Other America.”
Today across America, here in Seattle and its surrounding communities, millions are only a lost home, a lost job, a divorce or a major medical bill away from becoming homeless. And that is why our job at Real Change, with your support, is critical in our work with our vendors and with our strong voice for advocacy and change.