Number of city workers living in poverty doubled under Mayor Nutter

Unions Nutter
Union members called on Mayor Michael Nutter to negotiate contracts at a recent rally outside City Hall. Credit: Rikard Larma/Metro

A recent study from Temple University associate professor of economics Michael Bognanno found the percentage of city workers living in poverty has doubled under the tenure of Mayor Michael Nutter.

Members of Philadelphia’s two municipal unions – white collar union AFSCME District Council 47 and blue collar union District Council 33 – have been working for five years without a contract or corresponding wage and benefit increases.

In fact, since Nutter took office in 2008, the city hasn’t resolved a contract with a single union outside of the state’s legally mandated third party arbitration process.

“City workers have suffered and been held hostage by this mayor for too long,” D.C. 33 president Pete Matthews said in a statement.

“This report confirms what our members have felt for years under Mayor Nutter. Every day he refuses to negotiate with our members forces more and more of these hard working men and women into poverty.”

According to the study, “Poverty Thresholds and Rates of Poverty Within AFSCME District Council 33 and 47,” between 2007 and 2013 there was a 50.6 percent increase in the number of D.C. 33 and 47 employees who earn less than the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services poverty guideline for a family of four, as adjusted for Philadelphia’s cost of living.

A combined 41.9 percent of D.C. 33 and 47 employees now earn less than the $35,310 adjusted HHS poverty guideline.

When using the U.S. Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, that number jumps to 75.8 percent of municipal workers.

That’s a huge jump from the 20.7 percent of D.C. 33 and 47 members who in 2007 earned less than the HHS poverty guideline.

“It is an absolute disgrace that our members, who keep this city operating, go home to poverty at night,” D.C. 47 president Cathy Scott said in a statement.

“After graduating from college with huge debt from college loans, our members work for the city because they believe in public service. They should not make poverty wages in order to be a dedicated public employee.”

The study found that, despite municipal workers’ poverty wages, employees generally don’t qualify for assistance programs.

No members of D.C. 33 or 47 are eligible to participate in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program because they use federal poverty income guidelines that aren’t adjusted for the local cost of living, which amounts to $23,550 for a family of four.

Similarly, the study found no D.C. 47 members and, at most, 24.6 percent of D.C. 33 members qualify for Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program benefits, which require that a four-member household have assets of $2,000 or less and a gross income at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line, which amounts to $30,615 for a family of four.

The study concluded that of the 24.6 percent of D.C. 33 members who would qualify for SNAP benefits, the vast majority are unlikely to be able to take advantage of the aid due to the asset limit.

Members of both unions are also unlikely to qualify for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, which requires both a low household income and assets of $1,000 or less and mandates the recipient look for a job or participate in a job training program.

Nutter in February said he’d reached an “impasse” in contract negotiations with D.C. 33 and petitioned the state Supreme Court for the power to unilaterally impose contract terms.

“We have been ready and willing to negotiate with this mayor,” Matthews said.

“He is the one who has refused to come back to the table, instead going to the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court to overturn collective bargaining rights for all public sector workers.”

By the numbers

$35,310 The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2013 poverty guideline for a family of four, adjusted for Philadelphia’s cost of living standards.

58% Of D.C. 33 members, alone, earn less than $35,310 per year.

41.9% Of District Council 33 and 47 workers, together, earn less than $35,310 per year, falling below the adjusted HHS poverty guideline for a sole-earner in a family of four.

$30,975 The HHS 2007 poverty guideline for a family of four, adjusted for Philadelphia’s cost of living standards.

20.7% Of D.C. 33 and 47 members in 2007 earned less than $30,975 per year, falling below the adjusted HHS poverty guideline for a sole-earner in a family of four.


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