Dallas County

We're Broke: Nearly 40% of Texas Workers Make Less Than $15 an Hour, New Research Shows

Since 2009, the federal minimum wage has been just $7.25 an hour.
Since 2009, the federal minimum wage has been just $7.25 an hour. Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash
Some North Texans’ pocketbooks have been hurting in recent days, with gas and food prices soaring nationwide. Plus, the Dallas-Fort Worth real estate market is out of control, with one study showing most Gen Z, millennial and baby boomer buyers can't afford to purchase a house in the area.

Now, new research reveals that a startling number of Texans aren’t earning a living wage. Nearly 40% of the state’s workers make less than $15 an hour, according to the global watchdog Oxfam.

The Lone Star State is also home to the largest number of folks raking in an hourly wage of less than $15: roughly 5.7 million workers. Next in line was Florida, with nearly 4.5 million employees falling short.

Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage has stalled out at a measly $7.25 an hour, the amount it’s stayed since 2009. But since then, that wage has hemorrhaged 21% of its value, according to Oxfam.

Oxfam is pushing for Congress to pass the Raise the Wage Act, which would boost the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025. It would also completely nix subminimum wages for tipped workers, including food servers.

On a national scale, almost a third of workers make under $15 an hour, according to Oxfam. Still, certain states such as California, Missouri and Virginia have opted to raise their minimum wage instead of waiting for federal action. Texas, of course, has not.

Unsurprisingly, women — whose careers are often sidelined because of child-rearing responsibilities — account for the bulk of Texas’ low-wage workforce. Nearly half of Texas’ female workers earn less than $15 an hour, compared with less than 32% of the state's working men.

Wage disparities are especially present for Texans of color. While around a quarter of white employees earn less than $15 an hour, more than 54% of Hispanic/Latino and 48% of Black workers say the same.

The numbers are most startling for working women of color, around 6 in 10 of whom fall below that benchmark.

"There’s just no way to make it with those numbers." – Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins

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This isn’t the first time Texas has made Oxfam’s naughty list. Back in September, we placed exceedingly low on the scale of best states for working women, coming in at No. 48.

Still, Dallas County has outpaced other areas in the state, passing a $15 an hour minimum wage for county employees in 2019. County Judge Clay Jenkins had long pushed for the change, telling The Dallas Morning News at the time that local leadership needed to set a good example.

“Elected officials cannot go out and talk about the importance of living wage jobs in the community if we don't pay a living wage here at home,” Jenkins said, according to that article. “It's like a parent talking to you about the dangers of teenage drinking when they're on their fifth beer.”

Speaking with the Observer last week, Jenkins said he wasn’t surprised to learn of Oxfam’s latest findings. So many people in Texas have two jobs to make ends meet, but those working 40 hours should be able to afford basic necessities, including health care, he said.

Low-wage employees will sometimes hear from their employer encouraging them to apply for benefits, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Jenkins said. Full-time workers need to make enough money to feed their families, and also so that the taxpayer isn't having to subsidize low-wage employers.

Even with programs like SNAP, people earning between $8 and $12 will have a tough time getting by, Jenkins added. “If you’re living in the metroplex and you’ve got a child or dependent, there’s just no way to make it with those numbers,” he said.
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Simone Carter was a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter

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