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Texas is one of the worst states in the country for workers, study finds

Oxfam America, a nonprofit organization working to end poverty, tracked how states and territories protect, support and pay workers.

Texas is among the worst states in the country for workers, according to new research from a national nonprofit.

The Lone Star State ranked 48th on the “Best States to Work Index” from Oxfam America, a nonprofit focused on ending poverty.

“The three big themes of the index are wages, worker protections and the right to organize,” said Dr. Kaitlyn Henderson, a senior researcher with the organization. “Texas does not perform very strongly in any of those spaces.”

The goal of the study was not just to rank the best and worst states for workers, Henderson said. Oxfam also wanted to understand if and how labor policies impact people’s well-being.

“If you have a robust labor policy landscape at the state level, does that equate to or correlate to other good measures of well-being?” she said. “We tracked our state ranking against measures of food insecurity, poverty and infant mortality, and we found that there is a very strong correlation.”

“The stronger the labor landscape is at the state level, the less likely there is to be high levels of poverty, food insecurity and infant mortality,” Henderson said.

Worker Protections

The research looked at policies that support workers and their families’ needs both within and outside the workplace. That includes things like equal pay mandates, pregnancy accommodations and paid family and sick leave.

Texas does mandate equal pay across gender and race and provides sexual harassment protection by state law, but it fell short on nearly every other criteria the study looked at.

“Texas does not have any paid leave, does not have accommodations for pregnant workers, for workers who are breastfeeding,” Henderson said. “There are very few regulations around having a fair enough schedule for workers. There's no protections for domestic workers. There is no protection for outdoor workers from heat.”

Fair Wages 

When determining whether a state offers fair wages to workers, Oxfam looked at the ratio of the state minimum wage compared to the cost of living for a family of four.

In Texas, the minimum wage remains at $7.25. According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, that would only cover about 20% of the cost of living for a family of four.

The study also looked at how well Texas’ unemployment benefits cover the cost of living for a family of four. It found those benefits only cover 10.5% of the wages needed to cover cost of living.

Organizing Rights

Researchers also looked at whether workers have the right to organize and sustain a union. As a “right-to-work” state, Texas ranks just shy of dead last in this category.

Historically, unions have played a vital role in protecting workers’ rights to speak out about problems in the workplace, bargain for higher wages and push for stronger protections.

When states like Texas impose “right-to-work” laws, it prohibits unions from collecting dues from the people who benefit from their activities, making it much more challenging for unions to grow.

Texas also bans collective bargaining and wage negotiations for teachers.

“Public teachers are one of the largest sectors in this country, behind government workers, and overwhelmingly are women,” she said. “So denying public teachers the right to collectively bargain and organize really does limit the wage and benefit negotiation of teachers and keeps them working at a much lower wage.”

Democratic candidate for governor Beto O’Rourke has criticized the Republican push to weaken unions in Texas and has made strengthening unions in the state part of his campaign.

Gov. Greg Abbott, meanwhile, has targeted O’Rourke for his positions on organized labor.

Henderson said despite Texas falling short in Oxfam’s analysis, there’s a lot of room for growth and improvement.

“Change is very possible,” she said. “Small policies make a very big difference, and Texans (should) really advocate for the changes that they wish to see, because it matters.”

Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Rebekah Morr
Bekah Morr is KERA's Morning Edition producer. She came to KERA from NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she worked as a news assistant at Weekend All Things Considered. While there, she produced stories and segments for a national audience, covering everything from rising suicide rates among police officers, to abuse allegations against Nike coaches and everything in between. Before that, she interned for a year on Think with Krys Boyd, helping to research, write and produce the daily talk-show. A graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, Bekah spent her formative journalism years working at the student news organization The Shorthorn. As editor in chief, she helped create the publication’s first, full-color magazine.