Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Two Americas in Northwest Arkansas

According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau today, Northwest Arkansas had a median household income of $44,552 in 2007, below the national median of $48,934, even with a whole nest of billionaires in Benton County and assorted NWA multi-millionaires to pump up the averages.

At the same time, Northwest Arkansas’ poverty rate was 15.2% or about 64,000 people living below the poverty level. That is above the state’s rate of 15.1% and the national poverty rate of 12.1%.

The data also show 17.5% of Arkansawyers don't have health care coverage, well above the national average is 15.4%.

Why do you think that is?

Another news story today brought home the growing income disparity in our state. The Arkansas Department of Higher Education released revised figures yesterday ranking the salaries of higher education administrators. Here's the latest list:

1. B. Alan Sugg, UA System President, $538,722
2. I. Dodd Wilson, UA Medical Sciences Chancellor, $530,786
3. Lu Hardin, University of Central Arkansas President, $508,540
4. Les Wyatt, Arkansas State University System President, $464,980
5. G. David Gearhart, UA Fayetteville Chancellor, $363,446

A single mom, with two kids, working as a Data Entry Specialist makes $16,283, which is below the federal poverty line. Minimum wage workers make even less, $13,208.

What are the Chamber of Cowbirds and the Fayetteville Economic Development Council doing to create jobs that pay a living wage? What will Mayor Dan Coody's $150,000 consultant's report do to help working families? Probably not much, because low wage workers and unemployed residents are not among the "stakeholders" they will be interviewing. They will talk with Mayor Coody, who is paid $107,038 a year in tax dollars and frequently jets around the country and the world. They will be talking to the Northwest Arkansas Council of Corporations and Wealthy Business Executives. You get the picture.

The Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families offers five good suggestions that the state legislature could adopt to make a difference, but tax and appropriation bills require a 3/4 vote to pass. None of them will pass, because the Chamber and the Farm Bureau will oppose them, and the Republicans will not vote for them.

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