Bob Feldman : Regressive Taxation and Limited Unionization in Texas, 1996-2011

Staff and supporters of Texas’ Workers’ Defense Project perform at Texas state Capitor inside Capitol at event commemorating Texas workers who have died on the job. Photo by  Jason Cato / Workers Defense Project. Image from the Texas Observer.

The hidden history of Texas

Conclusion: 1996-2011/2 — Regressive taxation and limited unionization mark era in Texas

By Bob Feldman | The Rag Blog | May 29, 2013

[This is the second section of the conclusion to Bob Feldman’s Rag Blog series on the hidden history of Texas.]

Between 1990 and 2000, the number of people living in Texas increased from 16,986,510 to 20,851,820; and by 2010 the total was 25,145,661 — an increase of 20.6 percent over the population in 2000. Austin’s population jumped from 656,562 to 790,390 between 2000 and 2010 — an increase of 20.4 percent. And although there were still 228,300 farmers in Texas in 2000, by 2007 about 86 percent of all residents of Texas now lived in urban areas.

During the first decade of the 21st century, the number of Latinos living in Texas increased by 42 percent, the number of African-Americans living in Texas increased by 22 percent and the number of white Anglos living in Texas increased by just 4 percent. In Austin, for example, the Latino population grew by 45 percent between 2000 and 2007.

An estimated 215,000 Native Americans or people of partial Native American descent still lived in Texas in 2000; and between 120,000 and 131,000 people of Jewish background currently live in Texas in the 21st century. And according to 2010 census figures, 11.8 percent of Texans are now African-American, 37.6 percent are Latino, 3.8 percent are Asian-American, and 45.3 percent are white Anglo.

One apparent reason a few ultra-rich residents of Texas are able to accumulate surplus wealth decade after decade is that wealthy people in Texas (unlike wealthy people in states like New York) still don’t have to  pay any state tax on their personal income, to help finance a state government that still generally serves their special class and corporate interests.

Since the ultra-rich folks in Texas, who have dominated the state’s politics for most of Texas’s history, still  don’t want to pay a fair share of taxes to the state government, Texas has the nation’s fifth most regressive tax structure among the 50 states, according to United For A Fair Economy analyst Karen Kraut.

So, not surprisingly, in February 2011 the Texas Forward coalition of politically dissatisfied Texas residents and activist groups called for the creation of new sources of revenue that are more equitable than Texas’s current tax structure and for the elimination of unwarranted tax exemptions, in order to help finance those state government programs that actually benefit people in Texas.

Other reasons a few ultra-rich Texans are able to accumulate so much surplus wealth might be that: (1) many workers in Texas are still not unionized; (2) the hourly median wage rate of Texas workers has continued to be lower than the national average; and (3) the special  needs of economically-impoverished people in Texas are still  being ignored and neglected in the 21st century by the state’s white corporate power structure and its right-wing political establishment.

According to the Texas AFL-CIO website:

Texas has more than 1,300 local unions. The largest Texas AFL-CIO affiliates in the state (membership above 5,000) are the Texas AFT, Communication Workers of America, American Federation of Government Employees, United Steel Workers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Fire Fighters, UAW, Transport Workers Union, International Association of Machinists and United Transportation Union.

The same website also notes that in Texas, “some medical professionals, including podiatrists, doctors and nurses have joined unions;” and the Central Labor Councils in Austin, Coastal Bend, Dallas, El Paso, Galveston, Harris County, San Antonio, and Smith County each protect the economic interests of 5,000 or more labor union members.

Yet in 2011 less than 20 percent of Texas public sector workers are covered by union contracts. In addition, of the 10,526,000 people who work in Texas only 220,000 are members of Texas AFL-CIO-affiliated unions, although “Texas has substantial union membership that does not affiliate or pay dues to the Texas AFL-CIO” and “if you add non-affiliates about 500,000 union members work in Texas,” according to the Texas AFL-CIO.

The hourly median wage for Texas workers in 2003 of $12.01 was also still just 88 percent of the national average in 2003, according to an Economic Policy Institute study. And the median income in Texas in 2005 of $42,131 was less than the national median income at that time of $46,242, according to the Texas Politics website. In addition, according to a May 5, 2011, study of the Economic Policy Institute :

Texas is tied with Mississippi in having the largest share (9.5 percent) of hourly workers earning at or below the federal minimum wage. This compares with just 6 percent nationally…12.6 percent of U.S. workers earning the minimum wage or less work in Texas… Between 2009 and 2010, the number of people working at or below the minimum wage in Texas grew to 76,000.

A 2009 study by the Austin-based Workers Defense Project, titled “Building Austin, Building Injustice: Working Conditions in Austin’s Construction Industry,” found that in Austin (where the proportion of Latino/a construction workers grew by 13 percent between 2000 to 2007), “50 percent of surveyed construction workers reported not being paid overtime,” and “45 percent earned poverty level wages,” according to an article by Carlos Perez de Alejo that appeared in Dollars & Sense magazine.

As this same study revealed:

…50,000 Austin residents work in the construction industry… Texas construction workers earn 2 to 3 dollars less than their counterparts in other states who performed the same skilled work… One in five workers reported being denied payment for their construction work in Austin…The large majority of construction workers lacked health insurance (76%), pensions (81%), sick days (87%) or vacation days (73%)… In 2007, 142 construction workers died in Texas, more than any other state in the country… In 2008…construction laborers…earned a median wage of only $10.68 per hour.

[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s. Read more articles by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog.]

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