Sunday, July 17, 2011

PDA Tucson Activists Urge Politicians to Address Problem of Local Poverty

"Off the Charts Poor"-- a recent feature in the Tucson Weekly-- presented some sobering statistics about poverty in Pima County and in Tucson in particular and sparked local activism.

From the Weekly...

If poverty were a disease, Pima County officials would have declared an epidemic by now.

In the past few years, local poverty has literally gone off of a chart compiled by the Pima Association of Governments. Yet elected officials, other local leaders and the media do not appear interested in the fact that Tucson recently eclipsed El Paso as the poorest major city in the Sunbelt.

The epidemic of poverty doesn't seem to be a priority for either city or county government. We often hear about the proposed Rosemont Mine and the Rio Nuevo redevelopment district, but rarely do officials talk about the fact that 200,000 Pima County residents, or one in five, get by (or try to get by) on incomes below the federal poverty rate. For an individual, that translates to less than $10,890 annually, and $22,350 for a family of four.

Whether the increase in poverty is the result of a lack of job-training, reduced education funding, or something else, there is little discussion about trying to change the harsh reality that almost one in every four Tucson residents is currently living below the poverty line.

If a healthy economy is about a community's collective capacity for productivity, how can Pima County prosper when so many of us are suffering from the debilitating social conditions imposed by poverty?...

Inside the city limits, the percentage of people living below the federal poverty level went from 18 percent in 1995 to 23.4 percent in 2009 (the latest year for which figures are available). That's an increase of almost one-third.

In Pima County, things were was only a little better: The county rate went from 16.9 to 19.3 percent, an increase of 14 percent. As a result, Pima County today is one of the poorest urban areas in the Southwest. [Emphasis added.]
The Weekly article sparked a round of letter writing and activism among PDA Tucson members-- particularly among the members of the Economic and Social Justice Issue Organizing Team (IOT). Why are local politicians not addressing this situation? During every election, we hear about job creation, but Tucson continues to slide backwards, according to the Weekly article. Here are there letters that PDA members wrote to bring awareness to this wide-spread economic problem.

Economic and Social Justice IOT writes to the Tucson Weekly with 'Business Friendly' suggestions to address local poverty

The Tucson chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America applauds the article “Off the Charts Poor” as it beautifully documents the result of a generation of political policies on our community. It is true that Tucson depends on tourism, retirees, and students to bring money into the community, and it is also true that our economy is not diverse and that our education system needs improvement.

Our community desperately needs jobs which will let people live well and encourage our children and our graduates to stay and make their stands here. We can do better than attracting another call center.

Lately, we have heard much said about creating a business-friendly environment. We differ with the usual and customary definition of that term. Instead of slashing taxes and granting incentives, it is time to explore different types of projects. Although we understand that many different organizations are working in these areas, we feel that we would like to bring these points to the attention of the Tucson community in order to stimulate discussion and eventually action.

Here are some ways to make Tucson more “business friendly”:
• Establish a meaningful way to fund public education guaranteeing not only basic skills acquisition for all but also vocational education geared toward new and emerging fields
• Strengthen the offerings and the modalities of Adult Basic Education
• Require workforce development providers hire highly qualified faculty, utilize student-oriented learning systems, and develop curricula and on-the-job-training experiences that lead in meaningful directions
• Ask educational providers to develop new curricula leading to national credentials
• Work with unions to develop and enhance training experiences
• Develop a community investment bank with funds from local public and private sources to strengthen the economy and the prospects of our residents
• Utilize private funding to create a program to launch micro-enterprises
• Create high quality and affordable childcare facilities so parents can work with confidence that their young are nourished
• Solicit donations of computer equipment so that a network of “computer shacks” can be opened around the county offering not only training but safe recreational experiences for our residents.
• Require that all work receive meaningful compensation so that a person can live in this community with dignity
• Enhance protections for workers in regard to compensation, working conditions, safety, and health
• Pass a progressive rent reduction ordinance to stimulate small and large business start-ups as well as the development of not-for-profits. In other words, if a rental space is not let in a specific time frame, say 3 months, the asking price of the rental will be lowered by a specified factor, perhaps 15%. Further reductions would happen at specific intervals and at specific levels.
• Improve air service in order to move people and materials in and out of Tucson more efficiently as well as to and from more destinations. This capacity will only make Tucson more attractive for job development.

The Tucson PDA has recently started an Issue Organizing Team (IOT) for Economic and Social Justice. This IOT is to be an action-oriented team with the goal of making the economy in Tucson and around the country work for the benefit of everyone, not just the already rich.

We are grateful for the legwork provided in the Tucson Weekly’s article as well as for the opportunity to comment. We hope that our proposals catalyze both thought and growth. Please join us in coming up with ideas and turning them into actions. You can contact us at and follow our blog at

Richard L. M. Brodesky
Coordinator, Economic and Social Justice
Issues Organizing Team,
Tucson Chapter
Progressive Democrats of America
July 1, 2011

Economic and Social Justice IOT member lauds Tucson Weekly for expose on local poverty

Thank you for publishing the thoughtful and well researched article, “Off the Charts Poor” (June 23-29). It is disgraceful that Tucson and Pima County have become the center of greatest poverty in the Sunbelt. This article does an excellent job of revealing the increasing impoverishment over the last few decades. Water is wet and poor people don’t make enough money. As read, I was reminded of two movements which sought to change this situation and were thwarted by the Tucson and Arizona Chambers of Commerce in alliance with the Republican Party.

The first was the 1997 city initiative to establish a $7 minimum wage. The Chamber and local business interests spent an estimated $1 million to defeat the initiative. They made the claim that it would cause massive layoffs as businesses were unable to meet such excessively high payrolls. To insure that this effort would not revisit Tucson or other Arizona cities, that same year the Arizona Chamber of Commerce lobbied the State Legislature to prohibit Arizona cities from establishing a minimum wage. This statute remains on the books today.

The second movement in this regard was the “Living Wage” ordinance adopted by the City Council in Sept. of 2000. That ordinance would have required businesses contracting with the City to pay their workers a minimum of $8 per hour; $9 for firms which do not provide health insurance. The State Legislature once again moved to pre-empt the City by passing legislation to prohibit cities from establishing such requirements. Ron Stuht, lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce complained that “(Tucson’s living wage ordinance) is like a virus” which was going to occur “again and again.” (Arizona Daily Star Jan. 26, 2000).

The issue of poverty is that of wage suppression. Workers who are not organized into unions are completely at the mercy of businesses who want to pay the lowest wage they possibly can. These business interests have the money to see that they gerrymander State Legislative Districts and elect Republican politicians who insure that Arizona workers remain impoverished. Efforts of the Arizona AFL-CIO to bring wage bargaining power to Arizona workers are hampered by the “Right to Work” law and other legislation such at the two cited above.

What these business interests seem to fail to understand is that their efforts ultimately restrain their own growth. The flip side of wages is consumer demand. Workers with little disposable income have no money to buy the products and services created by business. Sales are slack and economic stagnation is the result.

Working hand in glove with wage suppression is legislation to insure that business profits and incomes are as free from taxation as possible. Since 1995 the State has reduced income taxes by 30% and still the Republican shills for business demand more cuts. A huge number of commodities and services are completely exempt from State and local sales and other taxes. Government services starved for revenue cannot provide the physical and organizational infrastructure to create an environment for diverse economic growth. The Arizona State Legislature, bent upon eliminating government services altogether also insures that there is little in the way of stable high wage government jobs; again reducing consumer demand.

This article also bemoans the lack of a workforce which has the skills to be productive in the workplace. Yet we see a State Legislature starving public education from preschool through the post graduate level. With the State universities now charging more than $10,000 per year in tuition and fees, it is likely we will see declining enrollment. How will this meet the need to produce more highly skilled and educated workers?

Cited in the article was Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities board member and Vice President of Northern Trust Wealth Strategies Vice President Frances McLane Merryman. It is a widely held maxim within our small business community that banks are unwilling to lend money unless you don’t need it. Without sufficient investment capital, business has no means to finance expansion or to survive cyclical recessions. Is it likely that with such members, TREO will ever recognize that wage suppression, low business and income taxation and scarcity of investment capital are the primary culprits of our economic malaise?

Arizona and Pima County in particular are in the throes of extremely unbalanced class forces. Until that is reversed, first and foremost by eliminating all constraints to labor organizing, Tucson is going to continue its deplorable slide into dubious distinctions such as the most impoverished city in the Southwest.

Jim Hannley
President, El Rio Neighborhood Assiciation
June 28, 2011

PDA Tucson's Phil Lopes writes to the Arizona Daily Star about job creation and budget cutting

Dear Editor,

A report just released from the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows Arizona’s growth from 2009 to 2010 was only 0.7 percent, worse than any other state except for Nevada and Wyoming. The report also shows that in the past ten years the per capita GDP in Arizona has only increased 3 percent compared to the national average of 6.7 percent.

Clearly, cutting taxes and spending simply destroys the state and the country’s ability to be productive and create jobs.

Hopefully the "budget cutters" in Congress will learn from the example of Arizona that only cutting spending will not “grow” an economy.

Phil Lopes
Former State Representative, LD 27
July 5, 2011

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting these letters and the very well edited version of the Tucson Weekly article "Off the Charts Poor". At Mayor and Council meeting two weeks ago, I asked them to take note of the article and proposed the creation of a commission to study the poverty and find real solutions to address it. I have received favorable response from Councilpersons Regina Romero and Richard Fimbres. Mr. Fimbres directed me to this study which was undertaken by the Ward 5 office under Steve Leal in 2007.:
    I hope other members will review this report and comment.