Texas: ‘Miracle’ or Myth?

What does it mean to be a middle class wage-earner and consumer in Texas?

For too many families, it means a struggle to make ends meet.  Texans want safe, stable jobs with decent wages and reasonable benefits that allow them to raise a family, own a home, and save for a comfortable retirement.  Much has been made lately about job growth in Texas. Unfortunately, for middle class Texans, the so-called “Texas Miracle” has been more myth than reality. So, how does Texas stack up to the rest of the nation on key quality of life indicators?

So, how about those jobs?  Texas has the highest rate of workers paid at or below the federal minimum wage and our median hourly wage is 10% lower than the national average.  We are dead last in the percent of Texans with health insurance and are near the bottom in the percent of workers with employer-based health insurance.

As for workplace safety, nine Texans die on the job every week, making Texas the deadliest state to work in, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  We also have the highest rate of workplace fatalities among the 10 biggest states.  Also, with a quarter of workers without workers’ compensation coverage, we are last in workers’ compensation coverage, lagging far behind the rest of the country.

And home ownership?  Texas ranks near the bottom in the rate of home ownership, a fact that is exacerbated by our high rates of personal bankruptcy, low personal credit scores, and high rates of foreclosure and subprime mortgages.  Plus, with the highest home insurance rates in the nation, more of our money is going to pad insurance company profits.

Finally, what about that comfortable retirement?  It isn’t so comfortable.  Texas ranks near the bottom in median household net worth and in the “nest egg index” which looks at personal savings and investing behavior.  Also, nearly half of middle income Texans report having less than $5,000 in total savings – over a quarter have less than $1,000.

This stark reality is compounded by a lax regulatory climate that typically favors industry over individuals and a broken civil justice system that is too often closed to consumers, patients, and workers who face needless injury and financial devastation. That’s right.  If you are hurt on the job, ripped off by your insurance company, or have your savings wiped out by Wall Street shenanigans, you likely won’t be able to have your day in court.

Not quite the picture of middle class bliss that many politicians and spinmeisters would have us believe.

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