About Us

Contact Us


From the Outside Looking In


By Alexa Llewellyn



May 9, 2003

Photo Ops

The society pages are full of stories about people living in Pacific Heights, Seacliff, the Marina, and Hillsborough.

Photos of Gavin with Ann; Kimberly with Gordon; Danielle with Stanlee; and Charlotte, George, and Willie can be found in almost every issue of the Chronicle.

Yet no one is taking pictures or writing stories on the 6% of San Francisco's population surviving on less than $8.50 per hour. No one is talking about the struggling waitress in the Mission living on $6.75 with her two toddlers. No one is talking about the janitor in the Excelsior making $6.75 per hour with a sick wife and a tiny baby. No one is talking about the senior citizen trying to live on his earnings as a clerk while occupying a tiny room in the Tenderloin.

According to Matier and Ross, an effort is afoot to put an initiative on the November ballot that would raise the city's minimum wage from $6.75 to $8.50 per hour.

On a national basis, the Economic Policy Institute reports that 5.8% of people in the workforce have jobs at minimum wage. Because of spillover effects, workers earning up to a dollar above the minimum wage -- 8.7% of the workforce -- would also likely benefit from an increase of the minimum wage.

According to the U.S. Census, the poverty level of San Francisco is $17,650 and 10% of the city's people live below it. Twelve percent of children under 18 in the city live in families surviving below the poverty level. Approximately 11% of people 65 years and older enjoy their golden years below the poverty level. Fifteen percent of San Francisco's female householder families struggle to keep their families fed and clothed below the poverty level.

If you make $6.75 per hour and work 60 hours per week for 52 weeks per year, you will earn $17,982, just $332 above the poverty level (with FICA at 7.8%).

According to the U.S. Census, the average rent in San Francisco is $882 a month, or $10,608 per year. If you make the minimum wage and your family is average, you will have $7,374 remaining after paying the rent. Your family also needs to eat. According to Family Circle, the average family spends $6,724 a year in 2003 dollars on food.

So even though you worked 60 hours per week for 52 weeks at $6.75 per hour, you and your family will have only $650 remaining in your pay envelope after you pay the average rent and feed your family the average amount of food that the average U.S. family lives on. From that $650, you need to cover the electric bill, transportation expenses, medicine costs, and clothing for the entire year. You will also have to figure out how to pay any childcare expenses, diaper costs, and school supplies for your children.

Critics argue that raising the minimum wage would disproportionately help teenagers. But the Economic Policy Institute shows that adult workers make up the largest share (68%) of the workers who would benefit from a minimum wage increase.

The Economic Policy Institute also shows that increasing the minimum wage would benefit working households at the bottom of the income scale. Although households in the bottom 20% of the income scale nationwide received only 5% of the national income, 35% of the benefits of the minimum wage increase in 1996-97 went to these workers.

Opponents make the claim that minimum wages only benefit the minimum wage earners and their families. Yet the dollars that these families receive immediately go back into the economy through purchases -- almost all within San Francisco (or those nearby areas accessible by public transit).

Prop N is going to cut much of the San Francisco public's present safety net. There will be fewer shelter beds, less affordable housing, and less money for general assistance. At the same time, the City and County of San Francisco have been cutting the health services that they provide to residents through the Department of Public Health.

We as a city have cut public assistance programs through Prop N. We as a city have reduced health services to the poor and their children through budget cuts to the Department of Public Health and San Francisco General Hospital.

How do we expect these workers and their families to survive?