Is the subject “increase in poverty” discussed when lawmakers talk about furloughs, unemployment extensions, wage freezes, foreclosures, or jobs for inner city residents? I ask myself “What did they expect when there was a lack of viable solutions to tackle the unemployment or underemployment issue in the inner city? The U.S. Census Bureau released a report recently that stated that one in four Baltimore City residents is living in poverty. From 2009 – 2010 the poverty rate in Baltimore City increased 20 percent. The poverty rate in Baltimore City is now 25.6 percent, 15 percent higher than the poverty rate for Maryland and 10 percent higher than the United States of America.
Yes the federal government, banks and Wall Street have contributed to the increased poverty rate in inner city neighborhoods, but Baltimore City should not be surprised because its lawmakers have also contributed to the problem of unemployment and underemployment which has an adverse effect of increasing poverty within Baltimore City. Here are three clear examples of how Baltimore City lawmakers are a part of the problem, while denying favorable solutions.
Problem #1 – In July 2010, a hearing was set for a bill proposed by Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke requiring retailers with gross sales over $10 million to pay workers a living wage of at least $10.59 per hour. Employers could take $2 off the wage if they used that money for employee benefits. Restaurants would be exempt under the bill. Needless to say, the bill failed in committee and never made it to the full council.
Solution #1 – Pay workers in Baltimore City a living wage, instead of the diehard effort to protect businesses that “underemploy” workers. Are City Council members aware that they make a living wage? As of 2007 the annual salary for a Council member was $57,000 for a part time job. Could it possibly be that they feel they are better than the citizens they are representing? Maybe they just don’t understand what it is like to live in poverty during tough economic times!
Problem #2 – On March 22, 2010 Councilman Bill Henry introduced legislation called Community Partnership Agreements that would have increased local hiring and provided a good living wage on construction projects over $5 million. In 2011, Council President Bernard Young proposed legislation to increase local hiring in Baltimore City. Both pieces of legislation failed because of the recommendation from the Baltimore City law department. They referenced “The Privileges and Immunities Clause,” Article IV, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, that provides that “Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.” The aforementioned clause is intended to prevent a state from imposing unreasonable burdens on citizens of another state – particularly with regard to means of livelihood or doing business.
Solution #2 – If local hiring violates the constitution why can’t we find creative ideas/solutions to tackle poverty and local hiring instead of shutting down when we are told “No.” If tuition at state universities has been found to not violate “The Privileges and Immunities Clause,” then why can’t the City of Baltimore impose application fees to out of jurisdiction workers? If tax incentives to companies that hire veterans and workers employed longer than six months has been found to NOT violate “The Privileges and Immunities Clause,” then why can’t the City of Baltimore give tax incentives to companies that engage in local hiring. I am not saying that the aforementioned suggestions are going to work, but they are creative ideas/solutions. “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”– Eleanor Roosevelt
Problem#3 – Furlough days for municipal and state workers over consecutive years, which means less money in the paycheck. This shows that if you are not unemployed then once again you are underemployed.
Solution#3 – Workers have paid their fair share with furlough days and layoffs; I enjoyed the idea of the bed tax for a city such as Baltimore that has hospitals such as Johns Hopkins, Mercy, University of Maryland, Bon Secours, and etc. which pay no property taxes and cover a large percentage of our City.
So it should come as no surprise that one in four families in Baltimore City is living in poverty because we as a city have done nothing but tear the worker down, instead of lifting them up. The failed policies of the Baltimore City lawmakers + the failed policies of the United States Congress = unbearable poverty rates for Baltimore City. Until we begin to educate ourselves and organize for change, the beatings will continue!
Cory McCray is the past Chairman of the Young Trade Unionists Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO, an avid blogger, and community activist. He can be reached through his Web site, www.corymccray.com. You can also follow him on Twitter - @corymccray