Over the last decade stagnating and falling earnings have put a tight squeeze on the working class. In fact, the typical 27 year old worker actually earns 31% less in 2013 than the typical 27 year old worker in 1969 when you factor for inflation. Household budgets are tight and working conditions certainly have their shortcomings. Worse, there seems to be no sign of improvement in the near future. Strengthening and improving St. Louis needs to start with the improving the foundation. Helping the working class succeed helps the entire city succeed. Thus, there are three policies the city should be considering to support the working class.
1) Offer City-Wide Paid Sick Days
There are currently laws guaranteeing workers the right to earn paid sick days. In fact, paid sick leave laws are actually banned in the state of Missouri. Yet, 23% of working adults report being threatened with the loss of a job for taking sick time off and the absence of a day’s pay for personal or family emergencies hits working individuals hard. Paid sick leave policies reduce worker turnover, enhance job security, and add further financial empowerment to the working class. Moreover, paid sick leave policies benefit the entire company and not just the individual employees.
Employees are 1.5 times more likely to go to work and spread a contagious infection or illness throughout the company without access to paid leave. Not to mention, the decreased productivity of a sick worker is estimated to cost the US economy $160 billion more than if the worker had not showed up at all. The benefits of universal paid sick leave in Missouri or St. Louis are very clear. However, the state must first reverse the ban on such a policy.
Currently, California, Oregon, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia mandate statewide paid sick leave. Cities in Washington, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York also have sick leave policies. In order for St. Louis to join over 30 US cities, support will be needed to lift the ban and push a local paid sick leave policy through.
2) Instate A City Earned Income Tax Credit
If you’re not already familiar with the federal earned income tax credit, it was a credit enacted in 1975 that has since helped more than 27 million low-income Americans collectively save over $66 billion. The credit offers tiered tax relief that rises with income up to a certain threshold. It is credited with lifting 9.8 million individuals out of poverty and is widely regarded as the government’s most effective tool for fighting poverty.
Approximately 27.1% of the city’s population falls below the poverty line and 37,486 residents are receiving some level of welfare. Creating a city earned income tax credit to supplement the federal credit would put more money in the pockets of the working class. It could pull a substantial portion of individuals above the poverty threshold and off of welfare. More money in the pockets of city residents also equates to more local spending, which further strengthens the city’s economy as a whole.
3) Require All City Colleges To Provide College Scorecard Information
Expanding access to higher education is a key mechanism for helping working class families rise up into the middle class ranks. While there is no short supply of colleges in St. Louis and St. Louis County, students are experiencing difficulty weighing the costs and benefits of different schools and degrees. The average St. Louis student graduates with $29,183 in debt and approximately 46% of graduating students don’t know how to apply their majors to the job market. Students need better access to college data in order to make informed decisions regarding their college and degree of choice.
The Obama administration sought to solve these problems with the creation of The College Scorecard. The College Scorecard allows students to compare the average annual cost, graduation rate, and post graduation salary for colleges and universities in any given state or city. The scorecard is a magnificent tool, but it has little use if students don’t end up navigating to the Department of Education’s website. Instead, St. Louis or the state government should require local schools to provide information on the availability of the scorecard on promotional materials such as the school’s website, financial aid paperwork, enrollment forms, and more. The more college comparison data is integrated into the school shopping journey, the better prepared students will be to make the right college decision.
By providing better working environments, reducing the harsh effects of regressive taxes, and supplying the next generation with the information they need to invest in an education that pays off, the city of St. Louis would be empowering the working class to improve their quality of life. Strengthening St. Louis is a process that must start from the bottom up. When the working class wins, we all win.