Roundup: Wages Drop for Low-Earners

Low-wage workers earning less and less • Crazy rent prices in fracking town • Sorry we exploded your town, have a pizza on us • LGBTQ youths opting in to small towns • Saving the Amtrak in the southwest • Technology needed for school tests

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Pay for low-wage workers has dropped in every state except three since the Great Recession, reports the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute.

EPI’s study shows that wages for the bottom fifth of wage-earners dropped in every state except West Virginia, Mississippi and North Dakota since 2009.

The biggest average drop was in Maryland, where the lowest workers earned $1.24 less an hour in 2013 than in 2009 (adjusted for inflation). Massachusetts and New Jersey also had drops of more than $1 an hour on average, the report says.

Nationally, low-wage earners received 6.4% less in 2013 than they did four years ago.

The biggest climb in pay for low-wage workers was in North Dakota, where wages for the bottom one-fifth of wage earners climbed an average of 58 cents an hour (inflation adjusted).

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We hear a lot about the high cost of living in big cities. But the most expensive place in America for renting a small apartment is Williston, North Dakota.

Renters in the oil boomtown pay an average of $2,000 a month for a 700-square-foot, one bathroom apartment. A three-bedroom, three-bathroom rental comes in at an average of $4,500 a month.

Williston’s population has more than doubled since 2010, reports the blog on Apartmentguide.com, because of growth in the oil industry. Supply can’t keep up with demand, so rents rise.

The oil boom has created many high-paying jobs in the area, and apartments can’t be built fast enough to accommodate the influx of workers – many of whom make six figures per year. The apartments that are already there are in high demand, so they get snatched up immediately, and for a pretty penny.

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Southwest Pennsylvania residents who lived near a gas well that exploded and burned for the better part of a week will be compensated for their trouble.

Chevron, which owns the well, sent residents a coupon for a free pizza and two-liters of soda. The coupon was included in a letter to residents that provided a number for a “toll-free community line” residents could call for more information about the explosion.

The well near Bobtown, Pennsylvania, exploded February 11, injuring one worker. Another worker is missing and feared dead.

Resident John Kuis said the explosion shook his house. Another resident said it sounded like standing next to a jet engine.

The coupon is good for a special combo only and must be redeemed by May 1 at Bobtown Pizza.

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LGBTQ young people in rural communities face special challenges, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they prefer to move to the big city. That was the message from sessions at the Time to THRIVE conference in Las Vegas last week.

The conference got attention for being the venue in which actor Ellen Page came out as a lesbian.

But in less headline-grabbing sessions, a number of presenters discussed LGBTQ issues in rural communities. The Youth Today article includes links to a number of websites focusing on rural issues, including young bloggers in Pennsylvania and Iowa.

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Residents of small New Mexico towns worry that if Amtrak alters the route of the Southwest Chief, it could mean economic disaster. The Chief runs from Los Angeles to Chicago. Amtrak is asking Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico to help pay for track improvements and maintenance. But some states are resisting. 

Dan Frosch reports for the New York Times:

“We need this train here,” said Jim Maldonado, chairman of the board of commissioners for Colfax County, where the train stops in Raton (population: 6,700), bringing thousands of Boy Scouts each year for retreats before dropping over the Raton Pass and into Colorado.

“Losing it would be devastating for our county,” Mr. Maldonado said. “Things have just been dying out here for years.”

At issue is who will shoulder the financial burden of modernizing the route.

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Rural schools in Tennessee are struggling to get technology so students can take new standardized tests on computers, reports WBIR television.

Like all local school districts in Tennessee, DeKalb County [east of Nashville] schools are preparing for new computerized testing that aligns with Common Core academic standards, which have phased into the state’s classrooms in recent years. Right now, the 600 students at the county’s middle school — a 1970s “open-space” building in Smithville — take turns to use a single computer lab with just 30 computers, about 70 shy of what is needed. Above the building’s ceiling tiles, adequate wiring and switches to handle the upgrades are still lacking.

A $200,000 boost last year from the state helped, but additional needs for the district’s five schools top $320,000. That’s a big ticket in the county of fewer than 20,000 people.

“If it were to be prolonged for another year, that would be good,” DeKalb superintendent Mark Willoughby said of the launch of the new test called Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. “But it’s going to be a problem in another year also.”

He called it an “unfunded mandate” and is unsure whether DeKalb County schools will be tech-ready by the fall.

 

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