On Tuesday, the Travis County Commissioners Court passed a “living wage” requirement for county tax incentives designed to lure jobs to the area. Travis County, after two years of study on this issue, valued dignity and shared prosperity.
Under the new requirement, all employees would earn at least $11/hour, and that includes construction workers and subcontractors employed to prepare, build, or finish the site.
Let’s take the Domain in North Austin, for example, which received Travis County tax incentives in 2003. If this policy were in place then, the construction workers, carpenters, painters, and welders building out the campus would have earned a minimum of $11/hr. Additionally, the more permanent on-site workforce—maintenance, custodial, and retail—would also be earning at least $11/hr.
Why is this a big deal? The vast majority of companies receiving incentives typically pay well above $11/hr. Still, $11/hr doesn’t go very far, especially if you are supporting a family. In fact, based on our upcoming Better Texas Family Budgets research, each parent in a two-parent, two-child family would have to make $15.75 just to make ends meet in Austin. But $11 goes a lot farther than $7.50/hr (minimum wage=$7.25), the current prevailing wage for construction workers in Austin. Further, most of these workers are classified as independent contractors with no health insurance coverage, retirement benefits, or unemployment insurance. These are jobs, alright, but arguably not good jobs.
Now that Travis County has acted, the City of Austin is considering similar guidelines. Some, however, are opposed to a city requirement, noting that such a rule would cost jobs, even though tax incentives can take credit for a tiny fraction of new jobs created. Given what it takes to make ends meet in Austin, $11/hr is the least we can do to make better jobs for everyone.