Looking Up At The Bottom Line
Apr 05, 2011 | 2515 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Richard R. Troxell returned from Vietnam and found himself homeless in Philadelphia. The native Texan eventually made friends with the owners of the house where he was squatting, and to Troxell’s surprise they were civil rights housing advocates.

The owners asked Troxell if he wanted to work to end homelessness by becoming a mortgage foreclosure preventionist. In no position to say no, he started working with the Philadelphia city government to stave off homelessness for people suffering in the economic downturn of the early 1980s.

It took almost ten years before Troxell decided to change his strategy.

“I realized that without a jobs component, there was no way to stop this from happening,” Troxell told me over lunch last week.

He started a similar program in Austin, Texas, years later, this time addressing employment. He approached then-Governor George W. Bush.

“Everyone always said that he had a drawer of cash in his office, literally,” said Troxell. Bush was surprised when Troxell asked for money from the famous cash drawer. “Who told you there’s a drawer with cash in it?” a surprised Bush asked. But in the end Bush steered Troxell to a $100,000 grant, “only because he liked the idea of the jobs component,” said Troxell.

What Troxell learned was that even though people can be housed and given jobs, the minimum wage does not make it possible to afford rent in most cities. If the minimum wage was too low to afford to live in Austin, it was certainly too low in other cities. The argument for minimum wage hikes gets debated by both sides, and the concern about raising the minimum wage is that it would hurt small businesses.

“The problem is that the federal minimum wage is tied to inflation, and it is the same across the entire country,” explained Troxell, “but living expenses and the cost of rent is different across the United States.”

Troxell designed a formula that would allow the federal government to tie the minimum wage to the Fair Market Rent cost of housing. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) currently uses the Fair Market Rent index now in order to determine the amount of money it disburses for housing vouchers.

It might be worth examining a floating minimum wage, which would be different in North Dakota than it is in New York. Troxell calls this the Universal Living Wage, which might actually be a way to raise the minimum wage while not putting too much pressure on businesses where the average income is not so high.

Troxell’s latest book, Looking Up At The Bottom Line, explains the idea of this wage plan and chronicles his experiences with fighting homelessness. His website lays out the formula for a floating minimum wage.

The federal minimum wage does not get raised very often. The reason for the delay is simple: any kind of regulatory tinkering can have a negative effect on small businesses, and it is small businesses that employ most Americans. The minimum wage was last raised in 2009 to $7.25 an hour.

The common answer to the minimum wage argument is that even though it’s a “minimum” wage, it is not meant to support a family - it is a bottom line minimum. Even if we use that approach of keeping a cautiously low minimum wage, it might be better to tie the minimum wage to the cost of housing.

When It Rains, It Hales

Montana state legislator Alan Hale recently stood in opposition to a current state driving under the influence (DUI) law, but then decided to take it a little further. Hale opposes all DUI laws in Montana, because they are “destroying a way of life.”

This is the kind of politician you wish you could live near if you are thinking of running for office. While it is true that in rural areas, people have to consume less alcohol because they most likely do not walk to the local tavern, the thought of eliminating these laws is beyond thoughtless. But guys like this do keep it interesting.

Happy Third Anniversary

To the how ever many loyal readers of this column, I would like to wish us all a very happy third year anniversary together. I know we get a lot of good hits on the online version, and I appreciate all of the feedback and communication. This paper has a great readership, and there are some cool things in the hopper for the next few weeks.

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