As residents of Austin struggle to make ends meet amid rising prices for housing, groceries, gas, and other necessities, the Austin City Council on Thursday, June 16 authorized a boost in the minimum hourly wage for city employees.
Council members directed City Manager Spencer Cronk to craft a budget for fiscal 2023 that will include a $22-an-hour “living wage” for regular and temporary city employees and as well people employed by city-paid contractors. The minimum wage for city workers has been stuck at $15 an hour since 2018.
Cronk’s draft budget is due next month; the council is set to adopt the city’s 2023 budget on August 19.
The new living wage for city workers will be well above the federal minimum wage, which has sat at $7.25 an hour since 2009. The minimum wage in Texas is the same as the federal minimum wage.
Nationally, the living wage for 2019 was calculated at $16.54 an hour. At $17.27 an hour, Seattle currently boasts the highest minimum wage in the country; that pay rate applies to workers at companies with at least 500 employees.
As these figures demonstrate, there’s generally a wide gap between a living wage and a government-mandated minimum wage.
“The term living wage refers to a theoretical income level that allows individuals or families to afford adequate shelter, food, and other necessities,” the Investopedia website explains. “The goal of a living wage is to allow employees to earn enough income for a satisfactory standard of living and prevent them from falling into poverty.”
Austin council members who sponsored the resolution supporting a new $22-an-hour living wage were Vanessa Fuentes, Ann Kitchen, José “Chito” Vela, Kathie Tovo, and Sabino “Pio” Renteria.
The resolution, which passed unanimously, not only calls for raising city employees’ living wage from $15 to $22 an hour but also instructs the city manager to develop a plan for increasing the hourly wage each year so that it eventually reaches $27.
The resolution cites a 35 percent increase in Austin rents from January 2021 to January 2022, a 56 percent increase in appraised home values from 2021 to 2022, and an inflation rate that now stands at 8.6 percent as three justifications for lifting the minimum wage for city workers.
In a statement issued by UNITE HERE Local 23, a labor union, Cinthya San Miguel, a cashier for Taco Deli at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, thanked council members “for standing up for Austin workers” by passing the resolution. Because San Miguel works for a contractor at the city-owned airport, she’ll benefit from the wage bump.
“This raise will make a huge difference for me, my son, and my newborn baby,” San Miguel says.
A calculator developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows the living wage for a single adult in the Austin metro area stood at $17.46 an hour in 2019. For a single adult with two children, the living wage climbed to $41.98 an hour. For two working adults in the Austin area who have two children, the living wage in 2019 was $27.94 an hour.