The Flip Side of Housing Affordability
We need to pay more attention to the wage side of housing affordability.
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The minimum wage in Washington state is slated to rise to a whopping $13.50/hour in 2020, a full time gross wage of $27,000/year, although any sentient being knows that this amount is risibly insufficient today, let alone three years from now. Even the touted $15/hour wage recently placed into law in Seattle, a full time gross of $30,000/year, is not sufficient. And it will not reach that amount for all Seattle businesses, including those employing under 500 workers, until 2021. At the moment, the minimum wage in Washington state, and by default in Bellingham, is $11/hour, a full time gross of $22,000/yr.
I have written before about the minimum wage ($15/hr Mimimum Wage - Seriously?) and pointed out that even if $15/hour were effective IMMEDIATELY, workers would still not participate in the income growth, per capita, since 1968. Frank Stricker wrote last month in Counterpunch:
“... if we apply the equality method, it seems a matter of elementary justice that everyone should share increases in the national income. To estimate how much income did not go to the people, we can use per capita income–the total national income divided by the population. Per capita income increased 16 times between 1965 and 2015. But average hourly pay increased only half as much. One reason is that a tiny group of “capitas”–the rich–seized most of the increase in the national income. If the hourly wage of the average rank-and-file worker had increased as much as per capita income, it would be $40 today, not $21. If the federal minimum wage of 1965 had increased by a factor of 16, it would be $20 an hour, not $7.25 [the current federal minimum wage].”
So what is Bellingham doing in the realm of the minimum wage? Nothing. We just chug along at $11 an hour at Washington state speed and still wonder why so many families, even if several of the members work full time at minimum wage, cannot afford to rent, much less purchase a home, in the city. While walking in the Happy Valley Neighborhood, I came across advertising for 2 and 3 bedroom apartment rentals listed from $1,600 to $1,900/month ($19,200 to $22,800/year). Do the math. If a family wants to rent a single family home here they are looking largely at rental rates from $20,000 to $40,000 per year depending on size and location of the house.
Of course, the naysayers will weep and gnash their teeth at the prospect of lifting the minimum wage to a level that comes even minimally close to making a difference in the lives of the working poor. Somehow, decent wages destroy jobs and ruin the economy, the naysayers contend, but they don’t quite explain how these poor, whom they have impoverished by low wages and debt peonage, are going to buy all the products that keep the economy going. The real problem is that the minimum wage is, for all intents and purposes, piecemealed among cities within individual low minimum wage states allowing cities to lure new business by saying, in effect,“Move to our city because we accept your doing business by paying shit wages instead of those living wages required by the city down the road.” Let’s not even talk about the national minimum wage, now pegged at a miserable $7.25 hour (full time gross $14,500) which, if lifted on a national basis to $15/hour, would put every state on a more equal footing.
So, I would like to call on the Bellingham City Council to begin discussions immediately about raising the minimum wage for its citizens. Decent wages are the flip side of affordable housing, a topic on the lips of every member of the council. Time to act.