The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

By Lauri Apple, July 12, 2002, News

Court Endorses Livable Wages

By a 4-1 vote, the Travis County Commissioners Court approved a resolution Tuesday to support the universal living wage formula developed by local homeless advocates House the Homeless Inc. The formula, which the Austin City Council endorsed in May, uses U.S. HUD data to determine how much workers must earn to afford basic housing without spending more than 30% of their income; in Austin, that's $10.60 per hour. The measure also advocates adjustment of the minimum wage (currently $5.15 per hour) to the universal living wage, and says the Court will recommend local public and private organizations and businesses to endorse the concept in an effort to help reduce homelessness in the area. On an average day in Austin/Travis County, 4,000 people are homeless.

The only nay vote came from Precinct 2 Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, who believes it's inconsistent to ask the feds to support the universal living wage when the county can't offer it. "I applaud the effort, but if we're going to be advocating that it's the appropriate, right thing to do, it ought to be something we're doing already," she said. "In this budget climate, there's no way we're going to get to $10.60 this year, or for a couple years." Currently, no County job pays less than $9 an hour, she said. Yet House the Homeless' Richard Troxell, who devised the universal living wage concept, asserts that the resolution's intent is not to bind the county to any specific obligations or timelines, but to send a message to Capitol Hill that poverty wages aren't acceptable. "The task at hand is to send the message to the federal government that 'out here in the field' we need relief," Troxell said. "The federal government is clinging to an outdated method for establishing the federal minimum wage. This piece of the system is broken, but here is a reasonable, measured, logical way to fix it using existing government guidelines -- index it to the local cost of housing across the United States."

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