City Workers In Poverty Double Under Mayor Nutter

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A new Temple University study has found city workers in Philadelphia are twice as likely today as they were in 2007 to have incomes that fall below the poverty guideline for a family of four when wages are adjusted for the local cost of living.

The author of the study, Associate Professor of Economics Michael Bognanno, said, “The analysis shows that a significant portion of the combined membership of District Council 33 and 47 are below the poverty line set for a sole earner in a family of four. The extent of the membership below the poverty line has roughly doubled since 2007, the period of time in which the membership has gone without a pay increase.”

Membership has gone without a pay increase because Mayor Michael Nutter has instead been putting forth budgets that hurt the vital services government-sector employees provide.

According to the US Dept. of Health & Human Services, the 2013 poverty guideline for a family of four is set at $23,550. Bognanno’s study used Economic Research Institute data to adjust the HHS national poverty guideline for the cost of living in Philadelphia.

As city workers, members of DC 33 and 47 are required to live in the city, which is more expensive than surrounding areas. Because the national lifestyle for a family of four purchased with $23,550 nationwide costs 50% more in the City of Philadelphia, the poverty guideline adjusted for the local cost of living in Philadelphia is $35,310.

The mean salary for the nearly 7,500 members of AFSCME District Council 33 is only $34,626, and 58% of DC 33 members earn less than $35,000 a year.

“This report confirms what we’ve been saying all along: Michael Nutter’s refusal to negotiate with the city unions has forced more and more of the city’s workforce to live below the poverty line, which in turn weakens city services,” said Pete Matthews, AFSCME DC 33 president. “By continuing to ignore the collective bargaining process, this mayor has shown his contempt for the dedicated public employees who go to work every day to move the city forward.”

Merging together the data for employees in District Councils 33 and 47, the study found 41.9% earn less than $35,310. In other words, roughly 2/5ths of these employees earn less than the poverty guideline for a sole-earner in a family of four after adjusting for local cost of living.

Put plainly, if you saw 10 city workers clearing the streets in front of your home during Hurricane Sandy, four of those workers went home to poverty when their shift ended.

When Nutter was elected in 2007, the HHS 2007 poverty guideline for a family of four was $20,650 nationally. Again using ERI data to find the local guideline, the 2007 lifestyle afforded at this income level was $30,975 in Philadelphia.

Because Nutter has refused to renegotiate contracts with AFSCME, wages have remained constant since 2007, allowing Bognanno to determine the fraction of today’s employees who would have been judged in poverty back in 2007. Only 20.7%, or 1/5th, of employees in DC 33 and 47 would have earned less than $30,975 in 2007.

This means that under Nutter and his 1% policies, the fraction of workers beneath the poverty guideline has doubled since 2007, going from roughly 1/5th to 2/5ths.

“Since Mayor Nutter took office in 2007, the number of city workers living below the poverty threshold has doubled,” said Cathy Scott, AFSCME DC 47 president. “This is not a coincidence. The Mayor’s policies have protected the city’s wealthiest and most powerful at the expense of the men and women who keep our roads clean, staff our libraries and recreation centers, and ensure that drinking water is clean and safe. As a result, the entire city has suffered.”

The Mayor’s recent budget proposal – now before City Council – cuts city services and wages. Not only does this impact the city worker, but it impacts all other residents of Philadelphia.

Jake Sternberger is a recovering/relapsing political operative who covers campaigns and elections.

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