Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Low-Wage Earners Shouldn't Be Pigeonholed

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Low-Wage Earners Shouldn't Be Pigeonholed

Article excerpt

Byline: Karen Brune Mathis

As the city focuses on raising per capita income, it's fine to look at recruiting and growing higher-paying jobs, but officials shouldn't lose sight of the fact that nearly 20 percent of jobs in the area pays less than $10 an hour, or about $20,000 a year.

That's according to a state list of 539 occupations in metro Jacksonville and their estimated average wages.

Crafting a strategy to attract high wage jobs to the area doesn't go far enough. The community also needs to take a look at whether the people in those low-paying jobs have the opportunities and abilities to move up.

Those lower wage jobs, almost exclusively service jobs, certainly have their place. No economy can run without them. Those jobs provide work for students to earn part-time money; jobs for adults whose skills match the positions; and entry-level opportunities for everyone.

Yet some low-wage workers are not satisfied, but consider themselves stuck. They want to move into better jobs, but cannot because of skills, location or opportunity, or they believe that the jobs they have should pay better than they do.

Let's put wages in perspective. At $10 an hour, a worker could earn $20,800 a year before taxes. That's higher than the $19,350 that the U.S. Census Bureau defines as the poverty rate for a family of four and well above the $12,800 for a year's work at the state's $6.15 minimum wage.

Of course, it's also lower than the almost $35,000 average for all area jobs.

Here's where the community, defined as the school system, businesses, the city -- and the employee -- come into play.

First, all four should help improve the city's functional illiteracy rate of 47 percent, which would go a long way to improve job skills. (Functional illiteracy is defined as operating at less than a 10th grade level. …

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