Soapbox

Raising the minimum wage is a women’s issue

Activists, fast-food workers and others march this month for increased minimum wages in the Little Havana area in Miami. They called for increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour and allowing workers to form unions without corporate opposition, as part of nationwide demonstrations.
Activists, fast-food workers and others march this month for increased minimum wages in the Little Havana area in Miami. They called for increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour and allowing workers to form unions without corporate opposition, as part of nationwide demonstrations. The Associated Press

Earnie Spencer works full time at a minimum-wage job and takes care of her disabled husband. After paying for bills and food for the month, Spencer, who is 62 and lives in Fairfield, says she has “nothing left over, and am waiting for my paycheck on pins and needles.”

In California and across the country, women are struggling to make ends meet and provide for their families. In fact, two-thirds of all minimum-wage workers in California are women. If they work full time, Californians earning a minimum wage make just $18,000 per year before taxes. That means a hardworking mother of two who earns a minimum wage lives below the official federal poverty line. That is, quite simply, unacceptable.

According to the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, a family of three living in Los Angeles needs at least $65,000 to make ends meet – the equivalent of three minimum-wage jobs.

The time is now to raise the minimum wage so that women, families and communities can get one step closer to making a decent living. Working women and their children deserve to be economically stable, and we can no longer pretend that $9 to $10 an hour is enough for women and their families in California to pay their bills, put healthy food on their dinner tables and pay for child care so they can go to work. That’s why the Women’s Foundation of California is supporting Senate Bill 3, introduced recently by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, which would raise the state’s minimum wage to $11 in 2016 and $13 in 2017.

It’s not just individuals and families who benefit when working people earn enough to live above the poverty line – all of us do. Research shows that increasing the minimum wage to $13 an hour impacts the state’s bottom line. Between the increased income and sales tax revenue, combined with the reduced costs for public benefits that working poor people are eligible for, the state of California would see an annual net gain of $2 billion annually.

It’s a no-brainer. Raising the minimum wage is good for women and families, and it’s good for California’s economy and bottom line.

Increasingly, states and cities are standing up for women by addressing the need to raise the minimum wage. Four politically conservative states – Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota – recently passed measures that raised the minimum wage. Voters in San Francisco and Oakland also approved minimum-wage increases, to $15 by 2018 and $12.25, respectively. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti is pushing for what he calls the “largest anti-poverty program in the city’s history” – a campaign to raise the minimum wage for all Los Angeles workers to $13.25 by 2017, which would affect 40 percent of the city’s workforce.

As a state, California should follow the lead of its cities and make economic security a reality for women and families by taking this bold step.

More than ever before, women are an integral part of a thriving economy, and a prosperous California is only possible when women and their families are economically secure.

What exactly does economic security for women look like? It means not only having enough to cover monthly expenses but also being able to build assets and savings for retirement, college or to buy a home. It means living free from the worry that a major life event, such as losing a job or getting sick, will result in destitution. It means good jobs, a decent living wage and important benefits, such as paid sick and family leave.

Let’s take the first step toward making that vision a reality and put more money into the pockets of hardworking Californians by raising the minimum wage.

Surina Khan is CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California.

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