Pamela Powers, a progressive voice for Arizona
Last Wednesday was Women’s Equality Day, in commemoration of the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote in 1920. In commemoration, the Tucson Weekly’s Maria Ines Taracena published a blog post on The Range calling attention to Tucson’s dismal standing among US cities in terms of the gender wage gap.
According a Census data analysis by SpareFoot.com, Tucson is at the bottom in terms of women’s median salary ($22,446, 2013 estimate), 5-year growth in median earnings (3%), 2013 median earnings as a percentage of men’s (73.9%) and more. An annual salary of $22,446 translates to $10.75/hour for full time work– far belong the $15/hour minimum wage promoted by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Let’s put this into perspective. The median wage is the salary right in the middle– 50% of working women to Tucson make more than $10.75/hour and 50% make less per hour. That is criminal when you consider how many Tucson women are single mothers and when you consider the recent Congressional and Legislative attacks on poor women and their families…
…like defunding or reducing access to low cost women’s health services, fighting against access to free or low cost contraception, shutting down abortion clinics, and cutting food stamps, child care subsidies, unemployment, public education, and community colleges. What else could the government possibly do to keep poor women living on the edge of society? Oh, I forgot… states are jailing women for miscarriages and shackling women to prison beds to give birth. And women of color are mysteriously dying in US jails. Are we barbarians?
But I digress…
Call Center Purgatory
The focus of this article is wages. The dismally low median of $10.75/hour really struck a chord with me because of three recent articles I read: one in the New York Times about calculating whether your city’s economy could handle aminimum wage hike to $15/hour and the other two about a new Comcast call center coming to Tucson (AZ Central and AZ Star).
According to AZCentral: “As part of a deal with the Arizona Commerce Authority, Comcast is eligible for tax credits worth up to $9,000 over three years for each worker paid at least the median wage in Pima County and with health insurance.” (The US Census data report the Pima County per capita to be$25,269 [$12.11/hour]; the same report lists Tucson’s per capita income as $20, 314 [$9.73/hour]. These figures represent 2009-2013 data averaged; that is why the Tucson figure is less than the 2013 estimate above.)
Both news outlets are estimating that the new Comcast Call Center will pay roughly $31,000 (a figure that they derived by dividing the total payroll and benefits figure provided by Comcast– $35 million– by the projected number of employees.) The salary was estimated in the news because Comcast won’t release salary figures. The AZ Central article also had some other interesting facts about call centers in Pima County. Nationally, less than 1% of all jobs are call center jobs, but in Pima County, they make up 2.3%. In addition, AZCentral also reported an $8,000 disparity between what call center employees make in Pima ($24,000/year) vs Maricopa ($32,000/year) Counties.
Just How Bad Is It?
So… why am I obsessing about the local median wage and this new call center? Because the New York Times article (referenced above) reported that economists have determined that if $15/hour is ~50-55% of a city or state’s median wage, it is safe for that local government to raise the minimum wage to $15 and not cause job losses. (I’ll let that sink in.) If your city’s median wage is $30/hour, $15/hour is 50% of that. High wages cities like New York City (55%), San Francisco (47%), Boston (50%), and Seattle (54%) would have no problem raising the minimum wage to $15.
But here in the Dusty Pueblo, $15/hour is 140% of our median wage of $10.75 because more than half of all Tucsonans are earning less that $15/hour.
Pretty much, the whole town needs a raise.
If the state or the city wants to cut deals with businesses to bring jobs here, please get at least $15/hour. Please aim higher than warehouses and call centers.
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