Raise It Up

Our minimum wage should leave no one behind

Back Commentary Jan 7, 2015 By Jay Schenirer

Sacramento is a great city with a progressive history, and the next five to 10 years could be the most exciting yet, with a recovering economy, a revitalized downtown and a sense of pride reflected in a can-do attitude not seen since the days of the Gold Rush.

New and consequential investments will mean new jobs across all sectors. The city’s significant investments in the past two years have catalyzed some of this progress to the point that I believe our economic momentum will continue to carry us forward.  

However, as a great and compassionate city, we should do what is necessary to ensure that this tide lifts all boats, and a critical piece of that puzzle is raising the minimum wage.

Improving the minimum wage and making Sacramento a better place to do business are not mutually exclusive goals. Done properly, an increase to the minimum wage targeted at Sacramento’s working poor will strengthen the economy, benefit the entire community and help create the Sacramento that we all want.    

I have been a business owner for over 20 years. It is a big part of what shapes my thinking and my approach to problem solving. My current business, which I have had for nearly 10 years, is a consulting company with 15 employees. The nature of the work is such that all employees are paid above the minimum wage and receive full health care benefits. I have also owned a restaurant and catering company with as many as 100 employees. The tipped employees and many of those in the kitchen made only slightly more than minimum wage (although they did receive full health care benefits).  

These companies share similarities with many others, including the portion of revenue consumed by labor costs. As an owner with a responsibility to both investors and employees to keep the business afloat and successful, my first priority is to ensure solvency, so I fully understand the impact of the changes in labor costs.

But a big reason why I ran for Sacramento City Council four years ago was to find ways to improve the lives of children and families, many of whom struggle each day to make it in our great city. This has been the focus of much of my work over the past four years. My initiative, WayUp Sacramento, has been successful in providing thousands of children with academic and health support. I am proud of this work; however, working with at-risk youth also connects us with families who, despite working one or more minimum wage jobs, cannot obtain healthy food, health care or some of the other basic needs for their children.   

As of July 1 of this year, California’s minimum wage is $9.00 an hour. Working full time, that equates to an annual pre-tax income of $19,440. It does not include many critical elements, such as health care or the ability to save for retirement. According to the federal government, the poverty line for a family of four is $23,850 — nearly 23 percent above the minimum wage.  Our community’s working poor are full-time employees who work hard but do not make enough to support their families. We can do better.

Other cities, including Seattle and San Francisco, have moved ahead of the state and federal government, choosing instead to take care of their own. Sacramento should do the same, while encouraging both our neighboring municipalities and the state to take action.  

Many have used $15 per hour as a target for an increased minimum wage. I am not sure what the right number is for Sacramento, and I do believe that other factors should be considered, including the geographic cost of living, tipped employees, students, inflation, etc. My hope is that in the new year, we can have a thoughtful discussion as a community about an increase in Sacramento’s minimum wage. I will request that Mayor Kevin Johnson and the City Council appoint a working group that represents the full range of those impacted by the minimum wage — business, labor, students and others — and charge them with developing a set of recommendations for the Council to consider. With time and opportunity for extensive public input, I believe we can bring this matter to the Council in the spring for implementation in 2015.

I believe that Sacramento needs a healthy business environment that creates jobs. However, a healthy community also needs jobs that allow working families to meet their basic needs. We can — and should — have both.

Can Sacramento afford a higher minimum wage? Let us know what you think in the comments: 

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