Commentary: Voting to raise the minimum wage in San Jose is the right thing to do
By Larry Stone, Santa Clara County Assessor
Opinion found at http://urlet.com/oriented.win
October 19, 2012
Each time an increase in the minimum wage is proposed, opponents make the same old arguments; businesses will fail and low wage workers will lose their jobs. In the 75 years since President Franklin Roosevelt signed the federal minimum wage act into law, it has been increased a couple of dozen times.
There is no evidence that increasing the minimum wage has caused the loss of jobs or driven businesses into bankruptcy.
Passing Measure D in San Jose is simply the right thing to do. Workers who work hard and play by the rules deserve a fair wage allowing them to live modestly in the community in which they work. A wage of $8 per hour is $16,400 per year or $1,300 per month. That is $500 less than the monthly rent for the average family apartment in San Jose.
One in four Silicon Valley residents lives in poverty. Many are employed, often at multiple jobs, but still don’t earn enough to rise above the poverty level.
San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Santa Fe, NM, have locally established minimum wage rates. A 2011 independent study by economists at UC-Berkeley of fast food, food service, retail and other low wage businesses in San Francisco, found no evidence that increasing the minimum wage was a “job killer.” A definitive study by New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research found that increasing the minimum wage actually stimulates economic growth, as low wage workers are able to purchase more goods and services and stay in their jobs longer, reducing costly turnover and training expenses for their employers.
Opponents also argue that Measure D will harm nonprofit groups. But nonprofits disagree. San Jose’s Council of Nonprofits, representing 200 organizations, supports Measure D, as do the United Way and Catholic Charities.
Measure D will level the playing field, allowing such local businesses as Lunardi’s Markets to compete with large chain stores by requiring the national chains to pay a fair and competitive wage. Nationally, two-thirds of minimum wage workers are employed by major national retailers such as Wal Mart, McDonalds and Starbucks, which are perfectly capable of absorbing a $2 increase in the minimum wage.
Opponents erroneously claim Measure D will require San Jose to create a $600,000 bureaucracy to enforce the law. I believe that most businesses are not trying to cheat their employees or violate the law. The handful of anticipated complaints can easily be handled by the existing city office that currently administers wage complaints, the Office of Quality Assurance. No new bureaucracy required.
Opponents claim that Measure D will make San Jose less competitive. Currently, Campbell and Fremont have different sales tax rates than San Jose, with no discernible impact on jobs or retail sales. There is no evidence that consumers drive from one city to another to save 12 cents on a cappuccino at Starbucks. I spoke with a waiter who has worked at the same restaurant for 20 years. The only time he ever received a pay increase is when the minimum wage was increased.
The Chamber of Commerce argues that the minimum wage should be uniform throughout California. The cost of living varies widely by region. It’s far more expensive to live in San Jose than Fresno or Redding. The statewide minimum wage is not adjusted for regional differences in the cost of living. Nevertheless, the Chamber of Commerce twice actively opposed Assembly member Luis Alejo’s legislation to increase the state minimum wage, calling it a job killer.
It’s all about leadership. Just as San Jose has been a leader in public pension reform and banning plastic bags, San Jose should be a leader in increasing the minimum wage. Measure D reflects our values and our sense of fairness. It means that those who work hard and play by the rules can earn a decent wage, pay their bills and care for their families. It’s the right thing to do. To learn more, visit http://raisethewagesj.com
Larry Stone is the Santa Clara County assessor.