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Workers' Advocates: Ark. Budget Surplus Leaves Out Low-Wage Earners

A recent report says 31 percent of Arkansas children live in homes where their parents lack secure employment, and 24 percent of Arkansas children live in poverty. (401(K)20Twenty)
A recent report says 31 percent of Arkansas children live in homes where their parents lack secure employment, and 24 percent of Arkansas children live in poverty. (401(K)20Twenty)
July 9, 2018

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The State of Arkansas is ending this fiscal year with almost $42 million more in its coffers than previously projected.

And the Department of Finance attributes that to higher-than-expected individual income tax and sales tax collections.

But while the money is no doubt needed to support a variety of state programs and services, Cynthia Martinez, development coordinator for the Northwest Arkansas Workers Justice Center, says the surplus has come at a cost to low-wage workers.

"We are the ones who are providing the surplus,” she states. “The breakdown of the money shows that very little is coming in from the corporate incomes. Most – the majority of it – is coming from individual income taxes."

Arkansas ranks 44th in the country in terms of its number of residents living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The state's median annual household income is slightly above $44,000. But a Living Wage Calculator from Massachusetts Institute of Technology says a family of four would need $58,000 annually to cover basic expenses.

While Arkansas has seen growth in the corporate sector in recent years, Martinez says that growth isn't trickling down to benefit the entire economy.

"Despite having multimillion dollar corporations here in the state, the state is still poor compared to other states in the country,” she points out. “So, the surplus is good news, but it's still coming off the backs of low-wage workers."

And a recent Annie E. Casey Foundation report found there are plenty of priorities for that surplus cash. The latest KIDS COUNT Data Book ranks Arkansas 33nd in education and 30th in children's health, compared to other states.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - AR