What Kind of City Is San Diego? It’s Time to Raise the Minimum Wage

by on July 14, 2014 · 9 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, History, Labor, Organizing, Politics, San Diego, Under the Perfect Sun

“The bottom line is that the minimum wage in 2013 is far less now than it was in 1968 despite the economy’s productivity more than doubling, and low-wage workers attaining far more education.”Economic Policy Institute

By Jim Miller

raise min wageThe San Diego City Council will consider today whether to pass an ordinance or put forth a ballot measure to increase the city’s minimum wage and provide earned sick days for local workers.

Since the last time I wrote on this subject in late April, the original proposal of raising the minimum wage to the local Self-Sufficiency Standard of $13.09 with five earned sick days has been significantly lowered in order to address the concerns of opponents.

The current proposal keeps the initial five earned sick days but now only raises the minimum wage to $9.75 in 2015 and $10.50 in 2016 before stopping at $11.50 in 2017 and indexing it to inflation after January of 2019.

Thus, despite the fact that the original proposal fell short of the landmark $15 an hour passed in Seattle and being fought for elsewhere around the country, the City Council still bent over backwards to appease the fears of those clamoring that any increase in the minimum wage would spell disaster for small businesses and the local economy. And they did this even though the preponderance of evidence shows that minimum wage increases elsewhere have actually helped the economy.

The response to this compromise from the Chamber of Commerce and company was to essentially flip the Council the bird and reaffirm their opposition to any measure that moves beyond the state’s minimum wage. As Doug Porter observed at the time, “San Diego’s downtown reactionaries believe they are in control” so nothing other than total surrender will satisfy them.

Hence, rather than entertaining any more compromises with themselves, the Council should hold the line and do the right thing without watering down the proposal any further.

Simply put, it’s time to stand on principle and do the right thing for San Diego’s low-wage workers.

In sum, this very modest measure would:

1) Provide for five earned sick days to nearly half of San Diego’s private sector workers who lack them. Given the fact that restaurant workers and childcare providers are the most likely to lack access to earned sick days, this part of the proposal does not just do right by local workers but helps protect the public’s health by making it less likely economic necessity will force folks who need the money to show up to work sick and share their illnesses with the rest of us. Giving workers earned sick days also means they are far less likely to send sick children to school or stay ill longer for lack of recovery time.

In the final analysis, having earned sick days makes workers more productive, reduces emergency room visits, keeps sick kids out of school, and consequently helps the economy and the community at large.

2) Help raise local workers out of poverty. As I observed back in April:

These are still tough times for most working people in the United States. We are in the midst of a new Gilded Age of historic economic inequality. The rich are carving out a bigger slice of the pie at the expense of nearly everyone else in America. As I noted in my column last week, corporate profits are at their highest level in 85 years and employee compensation is at the lowest level it has been in 65 years.

And this is happening despite the fact that the average American worker is more educated and more productive than ever before. The result of all this is a declining middle class, economic instability, and the hijacking of our democracy by moneyed interests.

Here in San Diego, we have one of the highest costs of living in the United States, and the picture for workers at the bottom end of the economic spectrum is grim. More than 300,000 households in our city have incomes too low to meet basic expenses, and our tourism industry has the largest number of employees with incomes below the Self-Sufficiency Standard with more than half of those workers failing to make ends meet.

And things are getting worse. As the Center on Policy Initiatives has noted in their new report, “Making Ends Meet: When Wages Fail to Meet Basic Costs of Living in San Diego County,” the economic crisis is not over for many of our neighbors:

The Great Recession continues for many San Diegans. The share of households living below the Self-Sufficiency Standard has grown from 30% in pre-recession 2007 to 38% in 2012, the most recent year for which all data are available. That’s an increase of 71,472 households struggling to get by.

In short, San Diegans making the current minimum wage are struggling just to get by. They can’t afford rents, transportation costs, childcare and a host of other basic necessities. Raising the minimum wage to a little bit below the local Self-Sufficiency Standard is the least we can do. It’s not enough, but it is a start.

3) Help the local economy. When low-wage workers get raises, almost all of that money gets pumped back into the economy at local businesses and that increase in consumer spending leads to more tax revenue. That increased tax revenue will provide more funding for infrastructure and other pubic services. In sum, raising the minimum wage is a win-win for all of us.

So who could be against it? The elephant in the room in this debate is the fact that those who are opposed to this imminently reasonable compromise proposal just don’t want to do anything that will help low wage workers because they are fine with the way things are now.

As I’ve argued here before, they are proponents of a new Social Darwinism that ignores the facts and desperately seeks to maintain the economic status quo even as Thomas Piketty’s work has decisively exploded the myth that anything other than crisis or political intervention can address our dangerous level of economic inequality that has much less to do with education, work, and merit than it does with the trend toward patrilineal capitalism.

Indeed, as the Economic Policy Institute recently pointed out, “The bottom line is that the minimum wage in 2013 is far less now than it was in 1968 despite the economy’s productivity more than doubling, and low-wage workers attaining far more education.”

Hence if it is true that the best way by which one can judge any community is how it treats its weakest members, then this Council vote is a basic test of the character of San Diego. Are we the kind of city where folks like the students I teach at City College who struggle everyday to feed families and/or put themselves through school matter? Or are we the kind of city where those with the most gold always rule, no matter the merits of the proposal or the clear moral imperative to do right by our fellow citizens on whose labor we all depend to help keep our city running?

Nobody who works full-time should have to struggle to provide for basic necessities or be forced to go to work when they are too sick to be there. With 38% of our neighbors having trouble making ends meet, how could we ignore them and refuse to recognize their full humanity? Will we be the kind of community that seeks to raise everyone up or will we continue to be ruled by our meanest impulses and live down to the satiric label of “America’s Finest Tourist Plantation?”

Tonight we will find out.


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob Johnson July 14, 2014 at 11:57 am

You just don’t get it. Any raise in the minimum wage will only give the people who work for it a boost for just a short time. Then when it rolls through all the unions and they get their raise which is part of most of their contracts, prices will rise and the minimum wage worker if they still have job will be back with comparable pay to what they had before. The real hurt will be the people on fixed income and maybe got a one percent raise last year.

If raising the minimum wage was the answer than why not raise it to fifty dollars an hour.


Frank Gormlie July 14, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Bob, it appears that you “just don’t get it”. Your predictions of catastrophe if there is “any raise in the minimum wage” just don’t stand the cold reality of our economic times.


Lia July 14, 2014 at 3:13 pm

What happened to go to school to get a better job? why should small business be the one to “Raise up the Poverty Level”? I would love to ask the supporters of this how they would feel if the money had to come out of THEIR pockets? I bet they wouldn’t be so quick to help! I started at 4.25 an hour 20 years ago, and today I make considerably more than that, because I worked two jobs and went to school for a trade, it is called the AMERICAN DREAM–not The AMERICAN HANDOUT. I don’t think minimum wage workers are the weakest members, what about our homeless? The wage is an entry level wage, there will be no reward for loyalty or longevity, when a person walks in and makes effectively 24K a year, from McDonalds, wow–why go to college?


Aging Hippie July 16, 2014 at 11:28 am

The money DOES come out of our pockets, in the form of government assistance to people whose poverty level wages are not enough to survive. It’s the same as if we just gave our tax money to the billionaires that own the companies that pay the poverty level wages.


gristmiller July 14, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Minimum wages stay in the local economy and benefit the local populous.


John O. July 14, 2014 at 4:46 pm

The minimum wage is a joke.


Aging Hippie July 14, 2014 at 6:11 pm

“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.” – FDR


sean M July 16, 2014 at 9:04 am

Who is against it? Everyone whose cost of living increases.


Aging Hippie July 16, 2014 at 10:39 am

There’s a popular myth that prices will increase if the minimum wage is raised, based on the false premise that prices are based on costs. Prices are based on market; the price for any good or service is the maximum the seller believes he can get for the good or service, no relation to cost. Availability is based on cost; if the good or service cannot be produced and delivered at a profit, it will become unavailable, and the more profitable it is, the more available it will become, until competition drives the prices back down again. This is how the market works, and how it’s intended to work.

The big losers in a minimum wage hike are the billionaires. Currently, we as taxpayers make up the difference between what people need to make to survive, and what the billionaires pay them. That’s the same as just giving the billionaire that money. Raise the minimum wage, and the billionaire will be forced to pay his employees enough that our taxes are no longer required to support that employee.


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