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March 4, 2016

Expanding the living wage in Arlington–a good approach to helping working people in Arlington

Development,Jobs — @ 1:02 pm

The Arlington County manager has proposed to the Arlington County Board as part of its annual budget adoption that it increase the living wage of $13.13 per hour (the minimum wage for county employees and for certain contractor employees working in a county building) to $14.50 an hour. At 40 hours per week for 52 weeks, such a wage yields $30,000 in gross income (before taxes).

The living wage is based on the federal poverty income needed for a single person to live slightly above the poverty level. In Arlington according to database from a MIT professor, a single person living in Arlington would need to spend $26,430 a year to live without public subsidies, mainly $14,000 for housing; $3,000 for food, $2,300 for medical, and $4,600 for transportation. http://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/51013
For a single parent with one child, living expenses in Arlington are much higher at $48,000 or $26 per hour (before taxes), as childcare would cost about $7,000 a year.

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Arlington Greens support the proposed increase in the rate of the living wage, but also believe the ordinance should be expanded to cover ALL contractor employees of Arlington County including healthcare aides, employees of nonprofits, and employees of private companies that receive tens of millions of dollars of local funds of economic development subsidies. Last November, for example, the county board gave $50 million in county funds to the Ballston shopping center developer to rebuild and develop a new shopping center that will employ hundreds of low paid retail clerical employees, food service workers and cleaning crews. Many of the low paid employees will then be eligible for a range of county safety net subsidies ranging from food assistance, free or reduced lunch for their children, and housing assistance.

The current Arlington county ordinance on the living wage does not require the payment of a living wage to organizations that contract with the county and provide these services outside a county-owned facility. Thus, most nonprofit organizations do not provide a living wage routinely. Employees of group homes that are privately operated are not routinely paid a living wage. Healthcare aides working in a disabled person’s home are not required to receive a living wage.

In essence, low wage employers shift their employment costs onto the public taxpayers by paying less than a minimum poverty income. Arlington County development funds that come from Arlington county residents should NOT be used to attract and keep low wage employers in Arlington. The county should require that companies getting these funds guarantee that all its employees receive at least a living wage.

In 2015 according to data of the Virginia Employment Commission, the average wage in the retail stores, entertainment, and food/hotel service in Arlington in 2015 was about $500 per week or $13 per hour, with many such employees making far less than $13 per hour or unable to work a full 40 hours a week. These three industries employed 27,000 people or 16 percent of total Arlington employment of 169,000. Thus, today about one out of every six employees working in Arlington are in a low wage industry. http://virginialmi.com/report_center/community_profiles/5104000013.pdf

Arlington County planning and community development staff have indicated in the past that every new high rise commercial office building in Arlington will generate over 50 low wage jobs that would entitle the employee to county subsidies, particularly housing assistance. The county’s economic development philosophy should be to discourage such low wage jobs and such associated development.

Arlington Greens have long supported the living wage which has been in effect in Arlington since about 2006. We support raising the living wage to at least $14.50 and support expanding its coverage to all employees of private contractors of the county government and to private employees of companies receiving large amounts of county development funds, such as at the Ballston Shopping Center.

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