Every campaign needs a premise. For Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry, the premise is the “Texas Miracle” — the idea that Texas is dodging the “Great Recession” because of his unparalleled leadership. For all his braggadocio about keeping Texans employed, Perry can’t hide behind the tough statistics released by the Census Bureau this week. One out of every five Texans lives in poverty — the sixth highest rate in the nation — while our poverty rate grew faster than the national average in the past year.
How is this even possible for a state that boasted one of the highest job creation rates in the nation? Perry can rightfully boast of one key statistic: Since he’s been in office, Texas has netted one million new jobs, according to CNN. It’s the type of jobs created that are troublesome.
Most of the new jobs created during the Perry administration have been low-level, low-wage positions. There are twice as many employees making minimum wage now than there were in 2008, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in March. The implications are catastrophic — Texas is now tied for the highest proportion of minimum wage workers in the country.
With this information, the seemingly paradoxical positive correlation between job creation and poverty is suddenly logical. Middle class workers have been laid off, and rather than face unemployment, many chose jobs below their pay grade. The squeezing of the middle class is increasing the gap between rich and poor, and the repercussions affect everyone. Many young adults who receive their first minimum-wage paycheck are dumbfounded by how little they make, and find themselves wondering how some families manage to support themselves on the same wages. Unfortunately, this situation is all-too familiar for many Longhorns.
For the about 20 percent of UT students whose families make under $40,000 annually, coping with day-to-day expenses, let alone tuition, is grueling. For a family that makes $40,000 a year, $10,000 is an overwhelming amount to pay for school. True, most of these students receive financial aid, but there is more than just tuition to pay for — books and housing can easily match the price of tuition in a given year. Moreover, neither minimum wage positions nor the state provides health benefits, so students are often unable to get medical care while away from home, worried about the financial impact on their parents.
Students with parents in dire economic straits frequently feel pressured to take on part time jobs in addition to their schoolwork to help subsidize the high cost of education. These extra responsibilities can impede the force of education a student would otherwise receive, as they are unable to take on unpaid, valuable internships, participate in extracurricular activities or take on leadership roles.
Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg laments the Texas policies that put Texans in poverty. Instead of enacting legislation to support the unemployed and underemployed, “We have been putting in place policies that make it worse,” Klineberg told the Houston Chronicle. One of the best ways to help citizens out of poverty is to educate them through college, but state legislation passed this year drastically cut funding for education. The budget cuts perpetuate poverty in the long term by failing to provide motivated students a means to higher education, creating a veritable circle of poverty.
Some may argue that people employed at minimum wage should be satisfied with the mere fact that they are employed, but this line of thinking is damaging both to the American psyche and economy. Minimum wage jobs may decrease unemployment rates in the short term, but they inhibit healthy growth of the Texas economy into innovative sectors. The “Texas Miracle” of job creation may be something to brag about this year, but poverty in Texas is a hurdle that will take much longer to overcome without new legislation enhancing financial aid for students, support for the unemployed and underemployed and incentives for high-wage employment.
Katsounas is a business and government sophomore.