The Dallas City Council provided strong leadership and vision this week by voting to pay a minimum wage of $10.37 to all contract workers employed with city funds. The Dallas Poverty Task Force also deserves credit for identifying the need to raise wages for contract workers and championing the issue. Mayor Mike Rawlings created the task force last year to address increasing poverty in the city.
CPPP is proud to have supported the task force by providing research, data, and key policy context on the need to raise the minimum wage paid by municipalities. Even though it continues to be against state law for Texas cities to raise wages for all workers, cities are increasingly stepping in where they can to address the insufficient $7.25 per hour minimum wage. Dallas now joins Austin and San Antonio, both of which raised their minimum wage for full-time and contract employees this year.
CPPP’s research has shown that higher minimum wages reduce the growing strain on social safety net programs, and ensure that more Texans will be able to provide for themselves and their families without relying on government assistance. Currently, state law prevents municipalities from setting a minimum wage for all workers higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. Local efforts to raise the wages of city workers and contractors can make a difference, but the Legislature must repeal the law for all workers in Dallas and across the state to have a shot at earning a living wage.
Dallas currently pays a minimum wage of $10.62 for full-time city employees. While the new wage approved for contractors is slightly lower, this investment by the city puts dollars in the pockets of hard working people, pumping money back into the economy and increasing the tax base.
This is a strong and critical step forward in the fight to increase wages for all Texans, but it is important to note that this new floor does not yet ensure a true living wage for city contract workers in Dallas.
CPPP’s Family Budgets tool shows that the minimum wage required for a single adult to cover basic costs for food, housing, transportation and healthcare in the Dallas metro region is $10.56 an hour, only $0.19 higher than the new law. However, if the contract employer does not offer health benefits, then the minimum wage needed to cover basic needs rises to $13.84 an hour, more than $3.50 above what Dallas contract workers will be earning. And this wage does not provide for supporting children, saving for college or investing for retirement. Nor does it protect against any of life’s unexpected financial challenges.
Dallas also must ensure there is a clear and safe method of enforcement. The City Council may need to review the process by which contract employees are able to raise complaints about not being paid the new minimum wage, and to protect workers from facing harassment or threats of being fired by their employer.
In Texas, cities and counties are leading the way to higher wages in the face of federal government inaction and the Texas Legislature’s decision to take power out of our communities’ hands. It’s time for more cities, counties, and school districts to follow their lead, and for the state legislature to allow Texas cities to set living wages that acknowledge the real costs of living for all of their residents.