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Austin isn’t as affordable as it needs to be, mayoral aspirant Steve Adler says on his campaign website, adding: "Our children cannot afford to live in the Austin where they grew up when they graduate and leave home. Even during a time of historic job growth, 57% of the jobs created from 2009 to 2013 do not pay families a living wage."
We wondered about that percentage.
By email, Adler’s campaign manager, Jim Wick, said Adler saw the figure in an April 26, 2014, Austin American-Statesman news analysis by Dan Zehr citing data compiled by Idaho-based Economic Modeling Specialists International, which analyzes workforce-related data.
That story said that while the Austin metro area had gained thousands of jobs in recent years, inflation-adjusted earnings had fallen. Then came the declaration that drew Adler’s attention, which didn’t speak generally to families or to jobs in Austin alone. "From 2009 to 2013," the article said, "almost 57 percent of the newly created jobs in the area paid less than the living wage for a single parent with one child ($19.56 per hour), according to data from EMSI and the oft-cited living wage calculator created by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology."
That living-wage figure, identical for Travis and Williamson counties, appears on web pages overseen by Amy Glasmeier, an MIT professor of economic geography and regional planning. According to the entries, the living wage is "the hourly rate that an individual must earn to support their family, if they are the sole provider and are working full-time (2,080 hours per year)."
To our inquiry, Zehr provided a spreadsheet he built based on increases or decreases in jobs across more than 730 professions in the Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area, also showing the estimated median hourly wage for each of the professions. By email, EMSI spokesman Joshua Wright said its median hourly wage data came from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and that information was benchmarked to the firm’s own industry-by-industry data drawn from agencies like the BLS and U.S. Census Bureau.
By our calculation, some 53,315 of the 92,620 net jobs added in the Austin area from 2009 to 2013, or 58 percent, had a median hourly wage less than the living wage for a single parent with one child. These lower-wage jobs encompassed 394 types of jobs including positions in oil, gas and mining as well as loan interviewers and clerks, pest control workers, skin-care specialists and medical secretaries, according to the spreadsheet.
In reviewing these details, we also wondered if the outcomes for Austin workers were as dire as Adler said.
For instance, the MIT website presents lower living wages including, for Travis and Williamson counties, $18.51 an hour for two adults and a child; $14.88 for two adults only; and $9.43 for one adult alone. If you focus on earnings at a lower living wage, in turn, you’re going to conclude more workers fared better. According to the spreadsheet, for instance, 40,560 of the 92,620 net jobs gained from 2009 to 2013, or 44 percent, had median hourly wages less than $14.88; 15,099 of the net jobs gained, 16 percent, had median hourly wages less than $9.43.
It also occurred to us the median wage might not be a perfect way to gauge who exactly is earning enough to get by. That is, the median wage in each occupation is the boundary between the highest paid 50 percent and the lowest paid 50 percent of workers. It stands to reason, then, that some workers in the 57 percent still made more than the living wage for a single parent with a child. But it’s also so that some of the other 43 percent made less than the same living wage.
The limits of public wage data evidently make it difficult to calculate a precise percentage.
Next, for an independent look at this claim, we turned to Cynthia Osborne, a University of Texas associate professor and director of the Child and Family Research Partnership at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. By email, Osborne told us the 57 percent figure might be right, but she’d need more information -- particularly the variations in wages around each median -- to reach a conclusion. EMSI’s Wright told us he didn’t have that type of information, but could share the wages for each occupation at specific points along the wage curve. Daniel Dillon, a research associate for the partnership, later said three interpolations drawing on this added detail basically confirmed about 57 percent of the jobs added in the Austin area didn’t pay the living wage for an adult with one child.
Adler said: "57% of the jobs created from 2009 to 2013 do not pay families a living wage."
To be precise, that’s the estimated share of net jobs added in the multi-county Austin area (not Austin alone) pegged as having median wages less than the living wage for an adult with one child. Families vary in size, though, as do related living wages.
We rate this statement, which lacks clarification, Mostly True.
MOSTLY TRUE – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
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Email, Jim Wick, campaign manager, Steve Adler campaign, Sept. 3, 2014
News analysis, Dan Zehr, "Zehr: When will Austin wages catch up with its job growth?," Austin American-Statesman, posted online April 26, 2014
Spreadsheet on changes in occupations and median wages compared to the living wage, Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area, 2009-2013 (received by email from Dan Zehr, staff writer, Statesman, Sept. 3, 2014)
Web pages, "Living Wage Calculation for Travis County, Texas," "Living Wage Calculation for Williamson County, Texas," "Living Wage Calculation for Texas," Massachusetts Institute of Technology (accessed Sept. 3, 2014)
Emails, Joshua Wright, director of Marketing and PR, EMSI, Sept. 3-4, 2014
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