Poverty Rate of Philadelphia City Workers Doubles under Mayor Nutter

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A new Temple University study has found that city workers in Philadelphia are twice as likely today as they were in 2007 to have incomes that fall below the poverty guideline for a family of four when wages are adjusted for the local cost of living.

The author of the study, Associate Professor of Economics Michael Bognanno, said that “the analysis shows that a significant portion of the combined membership of District Council 33 and 47 are below the poverty line set for a sole earner in a family of four. The extent of the membership below the poverty line has roughly doubled since 2007, the period of time in which the membership has gone without a pay increase.”

Membership has gone without a pay increase because Mayor Michael Nutter has refused to negotiate contracts, instead putting forth budgets that hurt the vital services government sector employees provide.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the 2013 poverty guideline for a family of four is set at $23,550. Bognanno’s study used Economic Research Institute (ERI) data to adjust the HHS national poverty guideline for the cost of living Philadelphia.

As city workers, members of D.C. 33 and 47 are required to live in the city, which is more expensive than surrounding areas. Because the national lifestyle for a family of four purchased with $23,550 nationwide costs 50% more in the City of Philadelphia, the poverty guideline adjusted for the local cost of living in Philadelphia is $35,310.

The mean salary for the nearly 7,500 members of AFSCME District Council 33 is only $34,626, and 58% of D.C. 33 members earn less than $35,000 a year.

“This report confirms what we’ve been saying all along: Michael Nutter’s refusal to negotiate with the city unions has forced more and more of the city’s workforce to live below the poverty line, which in turn weakens city services,” said Pete Matthews, AFSCME DC 33 president. “By continuing to ignore the collective bargaining process, this mayor has shown his contempt for the dedicated public employees who go to work every day to move the city forward.”

Merging together the data for employees in District Councils 33 and 47, the study found that 41.9% earn less than $35,310. In other words, roughly 2/5ths of these employees earn less than the poverty guideline for a sole-earner in a family of four after adjusting for local cost of living.

Put plainly, if you saw 10 city workers clearing the streets in front of your home during Hurricane Sandy, 4 of those workers went home to poverty when their shift ended.

When Mayor Nutter was elected in 2007, the HHS 2007 poverty guideline for a family of four was $20,650 nationally. Again using ERI data to find the local guideline, the 2007 lifestyle afforded at this income level was $30,975 in Philadelphia.

Because Mayor Nutter has refused to renegotiate contracts with AFSCME, wages have remained constant since 2007, allowing Bognanno to determine the fraction of today’s employees who would have been judged in poverty back in 2007. Only 20.7%, or 1/5th, of employees in D.C. 33 and 47 would have earned less than $30,975 in 2007.

This means that under Mayor Nutter and his 1% policies, the fraction of workers beneath the poverty guideline has doubled since 2007, going from roughly 1/5th to 2/5ths.

“Since Mayor Nutter took office in 2007, the number of city workers living below the poverty threshold has doubled,” said Cathy Scott, AFSCME DC 47 president. “This is not a coincidence. The mayor’s policies have protected the city’s wealthiest and most powerful at the expense of the men and women who keep our roads clean, staff our libraries and recreation centers, and ensure that drinking water is clean and safe. As a result, the entire city has suffered.”

Mayor Nutter’s recent budget proposal – now before City Council – cuts city services and wages. Not only does this impact the city worker, but it impacts all other residents of Philadelphia.

About Jake Sternberger

Jake Sternberger is a recovering/relapsing political professional who has been a contributor to Keystone Politics since 2011. Sternberger covers campaigns and elections for KP, drawing from his experience working on local, county, congressional, and statewide PA races doing field, oppo, comms, and as CM. He is currently a law student. Email: jakes@keystonepolitics.com Twitter: @JakeSternberger
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13 Responses to Poverty Rate of Philadelphia City Workers Doubles under Mayor Nutter

  1. Matt Thomas says:

    Good article…apparently at least a few labor leaders are getting wise to political fakirs long masquerading as Democrats…politicians whose numbers extend far beyond this one city mayor and on into the state and national legislatures.
    For how many years have labor’s hapless leaders gone begging and bleating to their so-called friends in Congress whom then put on yet another Punch and Judy show; cranking out legislation that all but a fool knows will go absolutely nowhere, leaving these same political whores once again assured of a union endorsement?
    There are seldom any consequences for this brazen duplicity and so like a beaten and betrayed wife of a worthless husband, labor will have a warm supper on the table as well as some more pin money for “our very good friend in congress.”
    Why is it that a Tea Party of less than 70,000 near-morons (PBS survey) and their few equally malarias allies can leverage enough power in the GOP primaries to effectively control the agenda of the entire House of Representatives while an organized labor of more than 10 million manages to serve best as a well worn rug mat to these same treacherous Democratic politicians?

  2. Pingback: 4/29 Morning Buzz | PoliticsPA

  3. Anne Smith says:

    Interesting that Mayor Nutter is the target here. No mention of the collapse of our economy, Corbett’s continuing gutting of public programs and services, and squashing of unions…..All contributing to the growing income inequality across the nation. Poverty is growing, as more people lose work in the public sector as well – and programs that help make a difference for people are being systematically eliminated. Wait for the impact of the sequester and ……

  4. jim tayoun says:

    We would like to use this column in our paper. Is it ok by you to do so? jim tayoun, editor

  5. Alen D. says:

    I’m with Anne. I am tired of footing the bill for automatic pay raises no matter how inept a worker is. And I would add that being a taxpayer in Philadelphia for 25 years has me applauding Mayor Nutter for standing his ground and for his curtailing non-approved overtime (now if we can just get the police department to stop approving their overpaying themselves) and generally keeping the budget budgeted despite less and less help from the state. While Harrisburg whines Philly “gets more than our fair share” I reply, “we don’t get near the same percentage of state income back we give you H-Burg!”
    Three cheers for our mayor

  6. Jim Reed says:

    Poverty rate of ALL Americans has increased hugely under Jugears.

    Food stamp rate up 80%, money spent more than doubled, just for one example.

    Plus, sorry, but there’s some bad “assumptional math” in your essay.

  7. Matt Thomas says:

    “I am tired of footing the bill for automatic pay raises no matter how inept a worker is.”
    Can you document the above statement…perhaps you have inside knowledge of such incompetency on the part of City employees? Are you so expert in terms of their practiced skills and the work they are charged with performing?
    To your added comment on over-paid Philadelphia cops, as well as those like you who frequently whine about over-paid fire fighters…all of whom are out there day and night on the City’s front lines and in its combat zones.
    My response is that you might instead find yourself thankful that there are men and women willing risk their lives for any amount of money while you are asked to do nothing more than pay your taxes and be left warm and safe and out of harm’s way.
    As to the old saw about Philadelphia enjoying a tax advantage over our mid state region I agree with you…but that is an entirely separate issue for discussion.

  8. Chris says:

    City workers are Philadelphia tax payers too. They aren’t Exempt!

  9. CPO says:

    FYI, the 31 page “study” in question uses the word “assume” no less than 15 times.
    This “study” was clearly produced as a tool to help the unions break the now going on 5 year contract dispute between district councils 33, 47 and Mayor Nutter.

    “Can you document the above statement…perhaps you have inside knowledge of such incompetency on the part of City employees? Are you so expert in terms of their practiced skills and the work they are charged with performing?”
    Yeppers! Here’s a start: Google “library workers” and “fox 29″ and see what you get! That’s what is usually referred to as the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

    • matt thomas says:

      Three library maintenance employees out of twenty three (23,000) thousand city workers…is that the best we can do?
      Apparently you are left untroubled by this same anti-union TV channel zeroing in on a few allegedly errant city workers while throwing out soft balls… if not wholly ignoring frequent offenders in the corporate world.
      We see this same hypocrisy when a highly subjective media story focuses on a few errant single moms on public assistance while at the same time paying scant attention to misconduct by the really big players in the financial sector who walk away with millions.
      The saddest part of this slanted television journalism are those hapless viewers like yourself who are caught up in it and trolled in on the hook.