May 9, 2003
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
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