Answer to Occupy Wall Street

As Americans across the country camp out to protest economic inequality, Richard Troxell, a National Coalition for the Homeless
board member and author of Looking Up at the Bottom Line, offers a rallying cry for Occupy Wall Street:

Get people to sign the petition at UniversalLivingWage.org, and add it to their list of income equity reforms.

Troxell is leading a campaign to replace the federal minimum wage with a Universal Living Wage that’s proportionate to the cost of living where the worker resides and works. It would allow anyone working 40 hours a week to afford at least an efficiency apartment. It’s a concept already in use by the U.S. military.

“The problem is that in any U.S. city, the minimum wage isn’t enough to support a full-time worker,” Troxell says. “Housing costs in major metropolitan areas are far beyond the reach of minimum wage earners, and once someone gets a job, they no longer qualify for support programs.

This year, 3.5 million people will experience homelessness, Troxell notes on his website, universallivingwage.org.  The federal government says 42 percent of them work at some point during the week. They are among the nation’s 10.1 million minimum wage workers.

The Universal Living Wage campaign has been endorsed by organizations in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, from the Civic League of Greater New Brunswick, N.J., to the Buffalo Musicians Local, No. 90 in New York. (Visit universallivingwage.org and click “endorsements.”)

The solution calls for increasing the federal minimum wage for 10 years. Each year, the wage would increase by 1/10th the amount needed to afford basic rental housing in each geographic area, as determined by federal HUD Fair Market Rents.

In its simplest form, it calls for:

* Workers putting in a minimum 40-hour week

* Workers spending no more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

* Indexing the minimum wage to the local cost of housing, as set each year by the U.S. Department of HUD (Fair Market Rents)

“Homeless minimum wage workers would be able to find jobs and housing, and feed themselves without public assistance. That will help reduce the economic burden on taxpayers, while at the same time stimulating the economy,” Troxell says.

“If businesses paid fair, living wages, then the tax burden would be dramatically reduced because people won’t need to supplement their income with government subsidies like food stamps,” Troxell writes.

Higher pay results in increased productivity, some economists say, by making jobs more desirable to both get and to keep. So businesses will save on recruiting, training and supervisory costs associated with high rates of turnover, he says.

Paying a living wage will also spur creation of new business as new revenue promotes commerce, Troxell says.

To those who worry a higher minimum wage will increase costs of goods across the board, Troxell counters:

“Wages are just one of many factors that make up the cost of an item. Manufacturing, transportation, equipment, rent, advertising, business location, income demographics of the community, employee recruitment and training – they all factor in, along with wages.

“Clearly, the cost of goods does not have to automatically rise just because one small portion of their make-up increases.”

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