Four years ago this week, we saw the federal minimum wage rise to a meager $7.25 an hour. The state minimum wage has been stuck at $8.00 for five years. For a full-time worker, this amounts to just $16,640, far below the national poverty level for a family of 4 ($23, 550), much less a living wage in the Bay Area.
Over the past three years, our Raise the Wage movement has talked with thousands of Bay Area voters about this issue. When asked if they support an increase in their city’s minimum wage to at least $10 an hour, overwhelmingly people say “yes!” On street corners and at grocery stores, there’s excitement and support. In community college classrooms, it’s not unusual for us to sign up every single student as a supporter, with many volunteering their time, labor, and personal resources to the cause. Last November in San Jose, fully 60% of voters in this politically moderate city said “yes” to an increase to $10 for all workers—despite being bombarded with hundreds of thousands of advertizing dollars predicting doom and catastrophe if the measure passed.
Why such overwhelming support? Because average voters have a basic sense of fairness. They understand that people who work hard and play by the rules should make a decent living. They understand that the challenges of small and local businesses cannot be solved by squeezing our most vulnerable workers to do more with less. They understand that when you give a raise to a low-wage worker, most of that money goes right back into the local economy.
If you listen to the naysayers, you would believe that poverty is simply an impossible problem to address. But if you talk to the 40,000 working people in San Jose who now have $4000 a year more to spend supporting their families, you’ll hear a different story. You’ll hear about having more money to put food on the table, to pay their rent, and to put gas in their cars so they can get to work and school.
We have already proven that we do not have to wait for some distant and watered-down solution from Sacramento or Washington. We can lead the way right here in the Bay Area to provide a high-road model to economic development and anti-poverty measures.
Last April the Berkeley City Council took an important first step when Mayor Tom Bates introduced a resolution directing the city manager to draft an ordinance that would 1) set Berkeley’s minimum wage at $10.55 an hour; and 2) build in an automatic cost-of-living increase pegged to the region’s consumer price index. This was a bold measure that matched the progressive values of this city. Mayor Bates’ measure passed with a unanimous vote of the city council. Now, the city’s citizen labor commission is studying the issue, receiving public comment, and preparing its recommendation for council action. A vote could come as soon as this fall.
Today (Wed 7/24), we are rallying to encourage the Berkeley City Council in its high-road path in raising the minimum wage. Please join us at 5:30 PM at the downtown Berkeley BART station.