Soapbox

Sacramento begins studying minimum wage increase

Activists calling for a higher minimum wage for fast-food workers gather to hear a New York state panel’s decision on raising the minimum wage. The panel recommended that the minimum wage for fast-food workers be set at $15, first in New York City and then throughout the state.
Activists calling for a higher minimum wage for fast-food workers gather to hear a New York state panel’s decision on raising the minimum wage. The panel recommended that the minimum wage for fast-food workers be set at $15, first in New York City and then throughout the state. The New York Times

Sacramento’s leaders understand that creating a vibrant city requires a vibrant economy. We have made great strides in creating an economic climate that favors investment and revitalization, and we will continue to do so. But just as our city does better when we have a healthy economy, businesses do better when their employees can make ends meet.

This is the backdrop for the minimum wage discussions in which the city is embarking in the coming months. It is a discussion that will center on how we manage the needs of businesses and employees, and how we find common ground that allows us all to continue to move forward and prosper. We are not drawing lines in the sand, but pulling out chairs for businesses and labor to have a seat at the table.

Mayor Kevin Johnson has asked me to co-chair a task force on Income Inequality and facilitate a reasonable, responsible and productive conversation about whether to raise Sacramento’s minimum wage and, if so, by what amount. While we are monitoring the actions taken by the state, our goal is to provide recommendations to the City Council in the late fall that are right for Sacramento.

The question of raising the minimum wage continues to arise in cities across the country and the state for a number of reasons. Beyond a populist ideal, there is the reality of an economy shifting toward service-related jobs filled not only by teenagers, but by adults, many with children and families who are dependent on a minimum wage to make ends meet.

It is a myth that minimum wage is a teenager wage. The reality is that in California one in three households struggle to provide the basic necessities. In Sacramento County, 24 percent of all wage-earners earn less than $10 per hour. According to a recent report published by the United Way, a family of four needs to earn $50,595 in Sacramento County in order to pay for the basic costs associated with housing, food, child care, transportation and health care. Meanwhile, two full-time minimum-wage workers earn $37,440.

Cities across the state and nation have already taken action on this issue, understanding the importance of a fair wage to the long-term health of their cities. We are studying and learning from these efforts to help create a thoughtful, deliberative and open process for Sacramento. The task force will spend time looking at what other cities have done and how they did it, what the potential impacts on the business community may be, and how to structure a new policy.

Included in the discussion will be potential exemptions for certain types of employees such as small businesses and student interns, a time line for potential increases, and, of course, the wage itself. While many cities have used $15 an hour as a benchmark and goal, we are coming together without a target number, instead working to understand and find a solution that works best for our city.

It is clear that these discussions are complex and that there is a great diversity in thought. That is why the task force consists of a wide cross-section of representatives from business, labor, ethnic and community-based sectors. In addition, the College of Business Administration at California State University, Sacramento, is supporting this effort, providing research and data that will inform our discussions.

Without a doubt, this will be a difficult and complicated discussion. We believe that compromise of political positions will be necessary in order to arrive at an appropriate public policy. Our hope is that all sides will participate with an open mind, focus on the data and move forward with the goal of doing what is best for the residents of our city.

Jay Schenirer represents District 5 on the Sacramento City Council.

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