This piece is part of a 2-part series. The second part, “Minimum Wage: In Support of Struggling Businesses,” can be found here.
At Sacramento Area Congregations Together, we seek an economy wherein everyone who is working full time is able to afford food, shelter and life’s basic necessities. We seek an economy that serves working people, who deserve to earn livable wages and have the opportunity to grow their wealth. When the economy serves people by allowing them to earn money, they can invest money back into the economy, thereby increasing economic health for everyone. We want an economy where full-time workers are self-sufficient and not dependent on government aid to supplement their wages. We want an economy that works for us. But here is a glimpse of our reality:
“I work for a temp agency that charges their clients as much as $29 per hour;I get $10 of that,” says Pyerse Dandridge, a dishwasher making minimum wage and formerly incarcerated leader of Sacramento ACT. “When I work 40 hours, I make about $1,200 after taxes. If I don’t get enough hours, I can use unemployment to help cover some of the missing income. Of course, if I make too much money — $800 per month — I won’t qualify for unemployment.”
This is a glimpse of our new economy. In South Sacramento, 11 percent of U.S.-born residents and 39 percent of U.S. children live in poverty. Job growth and opportunities in Sacramento are mostly in low-wage job sectors. Coming out of the recession, low-wage jobs are growing the fastest. Service jobs, like fast food or dishwashing, are no longer for kids finding their first job, but rather for adults, many of whom have children and work two or three low-wage jobs to support their families. The average age of a fast food worker is 28. Additionally, minimum wage work exists in a variety of industries, including sales, office administration, construction, agriculture and health care. The income from these low-wage jobs barely keeps many families afloat. Poverty wages come at a cost to U.S. taxpayers. For example, more than $7 billion in government assistance is used by fast food workers, an industry worth over $200 billion.
“I support myself with family help and other temp services for work that require me to travel to and from the Bay and UC Davis,” Dandridge says. “Most temps or minimum wage employees have roommates and use welfare services.”
The growing income inequality is hurting our economy and our communities. It is a sad state of affairs that the term working poor has become a staple in our vocabulary. It’s a reflection of a growing inequality, created in part by a low minimum wage. Since 1979, the wage gap in California has continued to grow, and income inequality is at an all-time high in the U.S. It is time to make sure all workers can make ends meet. No one who works full time should have to raise a family on poverty-level wages.
“Getting an apartment usually requires that I make three times the rent,” Dandridge explains. “So if rent is about $700, I would need $2,100 just to get that apartment. Though I could find apartments in West Sac, Del Paso Heights or Oak Park for under $600, the apartments would be in high crime and poverty areas. But the biggest fear I have with getting an apartment right now is trying to maintain the apartment for the long term.”
Raising the minimum wage is a positive step toward improved health for low-income families and, ultimately, for the increased prosperity and well being of their communities. Raising the wage would increase the quality of life for many Sacramentans, address racial economic inequality and boost business as it boosts morale of workers.
When you put more money in people’s pockets, they spend it at local businesses. This benefits everyone. Working families spend a good portion of their wages on necessities at local businesses, thereby re-circulating money back through the economy. In San Francisco, the minimum wage increase, living wage, health care and safety paid leave laws raised the compensation of low-wage workers to 80 percent above the federal minimum wage. These laws did not come at the expense of jobs. As a matter of fact, the city’s private sector employment grew by 5.6 percent from 2004-2011.
We have reached a point in time when we must ask ourselves whether we want an economy that serves the people or one that the people serve? The time to make a change has come. A recent survey of Sacramento voters by David Binder Research found that 55 percent of residents would vote yes on a 2015 ballot measure to raise the minimum wage to $15per hour, and over 70 percent support raising the wage to $13.50 now with a path to $15.00 per hour over time.
As the economy grows and the cost of living continues to increase, everyone deserves a fair chance to participate in the economy. By raising the minimum wage in Sacramento, hard work is compensated with a living wage. We urge the Sacramento City Council to put our city on track to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. With a living wage, workers become self-supporting, have their dignity restored and participate fully in the local economy. Everybody wins.