Jobs aplenty in Dallas but poverty stays high Dallas
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Page 1 Jobs aplenty in Dallas, but poverty stays high | Dallas Morning News http://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/headlines/20140201-jobs-aplenty-in-dallas-but-poverty-stays-high.ece [2/7/2014 11:32:51 AM] By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER Washington Bureau email@example.com Published: 01 February 2014 11:45 PM Updated: 02 February 2014 05:44 PM Jobs aplenty in Dallas, but poverty stays high WASHINGTON — For hundreds of struggling Dallas families, Fridays mean food. Each week, cars and trucks line up for hours to wait for bags of donated groceries. Many of those waiting are the Dallas area’s working poor, people who have paid their rent, their car payments and their utility bills, but don’t have enough left over to buy food. “Food lines here — that’s not an image people in Dallas have,” said Jan Pruitt, president and CEO of North Texas Food Bank. “But we have them, literally. Every Friday we see 200 cars line up to put that food in their trunks. … People are making choices every day Share 323 82 56 Page 2 Jobs aplenty in Dallas, but poverty stays high | Dallas Morning News http://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/headlines/20140201-jobs-aplenty-in-dallas-but-poverty-stays-high.ece [2/7/2014 11:32:51 AM] to buy food, buy medicine or pay their utilities. Poverty in Dallas has persisted in the face of enormous growth, right in the heart of a metropolitan area that has been among the nation’s most prosperous and fastest growing. Dallas residents are more likely to be impoverished than in any of America’s 20 biggest cities, except in Detroit, Memphis and Philadelphia. There are lots of jobs in Texas cities. Among the nation’s top 49 metropolitan areas, Austin’s unemployment is second-lowest. And Houston, San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth are all tied for eighth. Unemployment in the city of Dallas is 6.1 percent. Texas may grow jobs like California grows oranges, but for many in its biggest cities, work alone isn’t lifting people out of poverty. “The issue is not just unemployment,” said Celia Cole, president of the Texas Food Bank Association, an Austin-based umbrella organization for food banks across the state. “It’s underemployment. Texas has lots of jobs, but too many with no benefits or low wages. For Mayor Mike Rawlings, there’s more at risk for Dallas than just the well-being of its citizens who are trapped by poverty. Such high rates of persistent poverty will eventually push the best employers away from the city. That could send the city into a decline that everyone, rich or poor, will feel. “The big stakes, the historic stakes, is that in 2025, say, we are going to look back and say. ‘Remember 2013? Those were the glory years for Dallas,’” Rawlings said. “We will have peaked, and we will go down the other way, because companies are going to stop coming. There will be a rise in crime again, and the health care system will continue to be broken even worse than it is right now. “I’ve said before we live in this barbell economic system in Dallas. We’ve got 18 billionaires — and let’s not even talk about half- billionaires and quarter-billionaires. We have a ton of those. And then 39 percent of our population are asset poor? That’s a big, big issue. Despite its jobs, the strides made in its schools, a low cost of living and a stack of other advantages, Dallas confronts its national and global competitors with a string of disadvantages, Rawlings said. Too many young people finish school unprepared for college or a career, he said. That makes employers wary of adding well-paying jobs. And without those jobs, he said the cycle of poverty only repeats itself. Some employers already are expressing reservations about adding their better jobs in Dallas, he said. “You’re damned right it’s on my radar screen. Absolutely,” he said. “I am a business guy so I look at this as whether we are positioning ourselves to be around in 15 or 20 years. War on poverty Fifty years ago, Lyndon Johnson used his first State of the Union address to announce the federal war on poverty. Last week, President Barack Obama used the same forum to urge Congress to raise the minimum wage and combat a growing gap between the rich and poor in America. It was only the latest wrinkle in a debate that has lasted since the New Deal, when for the first time the federal government made it national policy to alleviate poverty. For most Texas-based leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry, the best thing the government can do to fight poverty is to help the poor find work. “A job will go much further than government assistance in giving Texans the freedom to provide for the needs of their family,” Perry spokesman Rich Parsons said. But Rawlings, a former CEO of Pizza Hut, said that a single-minded focus on jobs has left Dallas and cities like it weaker. Perry’s decision to block the expansion of Medicaid in Texas has hurt Dallas, he said. Page 3 Jobs aplenty in Dallas, but poverty stays high | Dallas Morning News http://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/headlines/20140201-jobs-aplenty-in-dallas-but-poverty-stays-high.ece [2/7/2014 11:32:51 AM] “Any policy that does not give us the same tools that other cities and states have makes it more difficult for Dallas to compete in a national market and a global market,” Rawlings said. Immigration’s role Still, there are others who argue that federal poverty statistics make things look worse in Dallas than they really are. Labor economist Pia M. Orrenius, vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said even many cities with lower poverty rates than Dallas have much higher costs of living, making it harder in those places to make ends meet. She also said Texas cities have higher concentrations of Hispanics, who almost always have higher rates of poverty, she said. That’s because Hispanic residents are often younger, have more recently arrived from other countries and have not yet reached their earning potential, she said. Newly arrived immigrants, she said, face language barriers at school and, when out of school, often lack credentials necessary to land good jobs. She said many of those same residents work themselves out of poverty. Dallas has more immigrants than most large U.S. cities, and in 2012, 41 percent of the city’s residents were Hispanic. Chicago and Charlotte, which is about three-quarters the size of Dallas, had 29 percent and 13.5 percent Hispanic populations in 2012. Rawlings said that’s because so many people see opportunity in Dallas. “They come to Dallas because they think they can rise up the ladder of success faster here than in other cities in the Northeast,” he said. Immigrants are flocking to Texas faster than any other state. The influx is faster even than in states like New York and California, where there are higher percentages of foreign-born residents. Since 1990, the state averaged 125,000 new immigrants — still mostly from Mexico, but increasingly from all over — each year, until today. Now, 1 in 6 Texas residents is an immigrant, according to a research paper published last year by Orrenius and colleagues. Immigrants make less in Texas than they do in other states, although jobs are far more plentiful here. In 2012, median weekly earnings for immigrants in Texas were $481, compared with $567 for immigrants nationwide, the report noted. Compared with Dallas, other cities with a higher share of immigrants and higher unemployment report lower poverty rates. In Los Angeles, Hispanics account for 48 percent of the population, and almost 50 percent of residents there are immigrants. In Phoenix, 40 percent of residents are Hispanic and 1 in 5 is an immigrant. Los Angeles and Phoenix — as well as Chicago and Charlotte — have lower poverty rates than in Dallas, even though Dallas has fewer of its residents out of work. The Rev. Gerald Britt, vice president at CitySquare, a nonprofit working with the poor in Dallas, said more important than where the poor have come from is where they are headed. He said too many workers who find jobs at below or near poverty wages get stuck — immigrants or not. Some people do arrive in Dallas, find low-wage work and quickly move into better jobs, but most don’t, he said. “People need jobs that will pay them a living wage, provide them a base for a better life. Too many of the people I work with get stuck in low-wage jobs and stay there. Moving up? Jarelle Mayberry hopes to make it out of poverty. But he’s finding it to be a slow process. Mayberry moved to Dallas 15 months ago at the urging of his sister, who feared he was on a dead-end path in the drug-colored shadows of Detroit’s hard-luck suburbs. He arrived recovering from a gunshot wound and stayed with a grandparent for a while. He bounced around the couches of his friends before ending up homeless, he said in an interview. Then he found help at CitySquare, which offered him a place to live and job training. “I earned my GED and a 12-week certification course in construction work,” he said. “I am certified as a forklift driver, a loading-dock worker, and other skills I can use to get a job. Page 4 Jobs aplenty in Dallas, but poverty stays high | Dallas Morning News http://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/headlines/20140201-jobs-aplenty-in-dallas-but-poverty-stays-high.ece [2/7/2014 11:32:51 AM] Mayberry works 30 hours a week, sometimes more, as a handyman’s assistant at an apartment complex. He’s paid $7.25 an hour and receives no benefits. He pays $200 a month for his apartment, which would normally cost $756. He lives there with his girlfriend, who is eight months pregnant, he said. He finished the training last year and since then he has submitted countless resumes for full-time work. So far, he’s had no in-person interviews, much less any offers. “I know this isn’t cutting it,” Mayberry said. “Seven-twenty-five isn’t going to be enough. But it’s a start, and I really feel like Dallas has been a great change for me. Here, I see role models who have higher expectations for young African-American men like me. It’s a big difference from where I come from, where everyone I would see was using or selling drugs. I feel like I have a chance. Rawlings cautioned that jobs by themselves often aren’t enough to raise people out of poverty — and thus aren’t enough to help the city prosper. “We know that doesn’t always happen. I saw this at Pizza Hut,” Rawlings said. “We’d have someone working in the back of our shop, and they would have the opportunity to move on to being assistant manager, store manager or district manager and the like. But for a whole lot of our workers, that never happened. Benefits vary In 2012, about 1 in 4 Dallas city residents lived in poverty or about 260,000 people. For a family of four with two children, that meant earning less than about $24,000. Life for them is in some ways easier than it would be in other large cities, where housing, groceries and other necessities can be much higher. Even the weather can be gentler in Dallas, and Rawlings and others argue that Dallas’ private sector agencies working for the poor are “second to none. But in other ways, Texas makes it harder on them, too. Low-wage jobs in the Dallas area are scattered throughout the region, and often are often not reachable by transit. Even so, 28,000 working-age residents live in Dallas below the poverty line and in households with no vehicle. Government help can be much harder to qualify for, too, and benefits for those who do can be a lot less generous. An example: A Texas family of four who is eligible for food stamps, now known as the SNAP program, can expect $261 a month in assistance. The same family in California, New York, Wisconsin, Hawaii, and Vermont can expect more than $600. And in Alaska, the benefit is more than $900. And Orrenias, the Fed economist, said it doesn’t help that in Texas a larger share of people have no health insurance than any other state. Without insurance, even moderate health scares can set a family’s finances back years, she said. “They often don’t have leave policies or as many sick days as someone working for the Federal Reserve or The Dallas Morning News . So a health crisis can have a devastating effect on the family’s economic position. Insurance gaps Rawlings said it’s essential for the Affordable Care Act to succeed. Health insurance gaps put the whole city at risk, he said. “But the biggest mistake we’ve made is not accepting the Medicaid money that is due to the state that is part of [the ACA]. We’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars over a period of years. That is cutting our nose off to spite our face. He said to move Dallas forward, the city can’t afford to have so many residents without insurance. “A 21-year-old who is diabetic or has some other issue who can’t get health care is just costing us so much as a city and as a place, Rawlings said. “So guess what’s going to happen? [Dallas] is going to be uncompetitive… and eventually it will be a very destructive thing. But in the end better wages will require better jobs. And that means better skills, which experts and officials say will require better results from Dallas schools. Page 5 Jobs aplenty in Dallas, but poverty stays high | Dallas Morning News http://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/headlines/20140201-jobs-aplenty-in-dallas-but-poverty-stays-high.ece [2/7/2014 11:32:51 AM] Britt said training poor people in Dallas for better jobs is a big part of the work at CitySquare. Each year, it graduates about 150 adults from a training program that gives them skills to permanently boost their earning capacity. “This program is funded through an organization in Chicago, and the money comes from federal grants,” Britt said. “We ought to expand it four times over. We want our people to be trained for jobs that pay a living wage, jobs that can lead to careers. These efforts will have to start in Dallas schools, Rawlings said. “We need to have every child ready for college and a career. Right now we are failing,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I don’t support our schools. I love these kids. I love these high schools. But … you have to tell them the truth. Rawlings said he has failed, too. Raising expectations and talking about higher standards isn’t enough, he said. “The real question is, ‘Am I doing enough, as mayor?’ And I am coming to the conclusion that I am not — I am pointing fingers at everyone, but not really pointing them at myself. Meanwhile, proof of the persistence of poverty in the face of a booming economy, whatever its causes, is easy enough to find in the Dallas area. Each Friday in a large parking lot at a rotating site, the cars begin arriving early, and people wait for the food that they need to fend off hunger. “They arrive as early as 6 in the morning, even though the volunteers don’t usually arrive until 7:30, and the food comes later,” said Kim Aaron, a program manager at the North Texas Food Bank. “The cars start moving forward, and we have the food sorted, so we ask each one: Do you want the carrots? Do you want some breakfast foods? They almost always take everything we have to give. Follow Michael A. Lindenberger on Twitter at @lindenberger. WHAT THEY SAID: Raising people out of poverty President Barack Obama in the State of the Union last week: “Americans understand that some people will earn more than others, and we don’t resent those who, by virtue of their efforts, achieve incredible success. But Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty. Rep. Jeb Hensarling , R-Dallas, after the speech: “Millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans … want us to fight and win the war on poverty, not by waging a war on jobs like the president has laid out, but by empowering all Americans to pursue their version of the American dream in our free-enterprise system. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings on why Texas’ leaders should embrace Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act: “There is an old saying — if you are getting better but you are not getting better than the other guy, then you are getting worse. Texas and Dallas need to look at this and realize it’s a competitive world we live in, and we are competing against these other places in the world and decide, ‘We are either going to win or going to lose or we can be ideologues and ultimately go down with the ship. Gov. Rick Perry , through a spokesman: “The governor believes the best way to prosperity is through job creation and getting Texans to work. A job will go much further than government assistance in giving Texans the freedom to provide for the needs of their family, whether that means buying groceries and clothes, reliable transportation, putting a roof over their heads or building a secure future for their children. Jarelle Mayberry , 20, on opportunities he has found in Dallas since moving here 15 months ago. Formerly homeless, he now works 30 hours a week and is looking for a full-time job, which he is finding to be a difficult process: