In the summer of 2006, the Chicago Tribune editorial board staunchly opposed the Big Box living wage ordinance passed by the Chicago City Council and ultimately vetoed by the Daley Administration. Calling it "one of the loopiest ideas we've seen from City Hall in a ...
In the summer of 2006, the Chicago Tribune editorial board staunchly opposed the Big Box living wage ordinance passed by the Chicago City Council and ultimately vetoed by the Daley Administration. Calling it "one of the loopiest ideas we've seen from City Hall in a long time," they addressed the city's aldermen in a July 25, 2006, editorial: "[T]hink about those workers ... and think about all the other people still waiting for their chance. They're your neighbors and your constituents. They want jobs. You can help them get to work."
Two years later, the Tribune is beating the same drum, this time after "driving by" a vacant lot on 83rd Street that would have ostensibly housed the city's second Wal-Mart location had the big box fight never occurred. Thinking wistfully about Chicago's lone branch in the Austin neighborhood, they wonder how the South Side community of Chatham could have been transformed:
This thriving Wal-Mart is on the site of what had been a virtually abandoned building. The store provides jobs for more than 440 employees—it's currently hiring more—at average wages for hourly workers of about $12 an hour. In the 18 months the store has been open (through February), it has collected nearly $7.3 million in sales taxes alone—$1.9 million for the city, $3.9 million for the state, $917,000 for the RTA and $583,000 for Cook County. And it's a convenient shopping mecca for Chicagoans.
You would think the City of Chicago would want more of all of this: More jobs. More sales and property tax revenues. More convenient shopping opportunities. You would think the city would want fewer vacant lots.
Now, I didn't major in statistics, but something here just doesn't add up. If the average hourly wage at the Austin location is over $12, why on earth would the Daley Administration put up such a stink over an ordinance that would have raised wages and benefits to $10.75 an hour?
What's more likely is that this average is highly inflated, taking into account a few well-compensated higher ups. In fact, Simon Head of the Workplace at the Century Foundation found that "the average pay of a sales clerk at Wal-Mart was $8.50 an hour, or about $14,000 a year," a job that often comes with few-to-no benefits and little overtime. Another 2007 study from the UC-Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education reports (pdf) that 58 percent of all Wal-Mart part-time employees make less then $8 per hour nationally. The Tribune itself wrote on June 13, 2006, that the entry-level wage at Wal-Mart in Chicago starts at about $7.25 an hour.
The editorial goes on to trumpet the loss of sales tax revenue, but makes no mention of the loss in state funds stemming from Wal-Mart employees who -- because they lack decent wages and adequate benefits -- become reliant on public assistance. A 2006 University of Illinois at Chicago study pegged the cost to Illinois taxpayers at $40 million annually.
More after the jump ...
But most egregiously, in assuming that the citizens of Chicago should simply want "more jobs," the editorial sets up a false dichotomy. In a recent column published here, Amisha Patel explained:
The idea that “any job is better than no job” has been advanced among the working poor for centuries. But it’s a false choice – one that only serves to keep those on the edges of social margins grateful for whatever those in power decide to hand out. It is an argument that the vast majority of Chicagoans rejected in 2006, with over 80 percent voting in support of referenda on the living wage in 300 precincts across the city.
And as the UC-Berkeley study finds, if Wal-Mart set their minimum wage at $10/hour, 46.3 percent of the pay increase would go to workers in families with total incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. In other words, such a raise could change people's lives. The bump would not be pushed onto the consumer either; the study found that if Wal-Mart were to pass 100 percent of the wage increase on to consumers, it would only cost shoppers an extra $0.36 per trip.
A word to the Tribune: Don't blame the unions or the aldermen for supporting valuable jobs in communities that have been abandoned by capital for far too long. Blame Mayor Daley for standing with these billionaire retailers and in the way of a common sense solution.