News / The Diaspora

Report finds East Africans make poverty wage in Minnesota

By BEREKET DEREJE   APRIL 25, 2015

An East African employee at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (Center for Popular Democracy)  

An East African employee at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (Center for Popular Democracy)

A new report conducted by the Center for Popular Democracy shows a disproportionately high poverty rate among East African communities in Minnesota.

The report finds a higher poverty rate in the Somali community, with 63% living below the federal poverty line while, percentage of Ethiopians in poverty increased from 18 percent to 24 percent in the last 12 years.

The Center for Popular Democracy suggests the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP), the largest employer of these communities, can alleviate the situation by establishing higher wages.

“$15 minimum wage at the airport would pull thousands of families out of poverty, decrease the number of households receiving public assistance benefits, and begin to move Minnesota toward greater racial equity,” the report states. “The effects this wage increase could have on families is immense.”

By some estimates, the report notes, as many as 20% of Ethiopians in the workforce are employed at the airport at any point in time. It asserts raising wages will give these workers the opportunity to take control of their own lives, acquire and generate wealth within their communities and create a better future for their communities to thrive.

“If the average service worker is making $8.50, a wage increase to $15 would increase take-home pay $10,000 for a full-time worker, bring $25 million in disposable income to the East African communities and more than $8 million in income taxes,” the report contends, mentioning that the raise will also generate $1.1 million in annual sales tax revenue from airport workers alone and stimulate an additional $14 million in economic activity in local communities.

But beside the fear of Minnesota Chamber of Commerce that such a raise could force some of the air service away from Minnesota, some are also questioning if indeed the increase in spending benefits the local economy, since many immigrants usually send a portion of their earnings out of the country.

The report argues however, many low-wage airport workers do not get full time hours, making it even more difficult to make ends meet.

One Ethiopian worker earning $8 an hour was featured on the report saying she’s been sent home after just an hour or two of work when her supervisor decided they no longer needed her services that day: “If I work two hours, including transportation time, I pay $9 for daycare plus $4 for bus fare, I made less than $4 that day…and that’s before taxes.”

The Governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, is also seeking to raise minimum wage in the state, reportedly favoring a minimum of $10 for airport workers. But on Thursday, Minnesota legislators passed a bill that prohibits cities or the MSP from outpacing the state minimum although, it’s widely reported that the bill is unlikely to clear the DFL-controlled Senate or earn Dayton’s signature.

Minnesota lifted its minimum wage last year to $8 an hour, with a law enacted on the same year to further increase to $9.50 per hour by 2016.

The Metropolitan Airports Commission, which the report pleaded with to establish a living wage requirement of $15 an hour,  has scheduled a special meeting to discuss wage options from airport managers on May 18.

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