Op-ed: Women will benefit from minimum wage increase

The National Women’s Political Caucus, Alameda North Chapter strongly supports the efforts to establish a local minimum wage in Berkeley that is higher than the state minimum wage. As an organization that supports growing both the political and economic power of women, we know that a higher minimum wage is critically important to women’s economic security.

In a recent story on regional efforts to raise local minimum wages, we learned about Essence Hope, who works at a retailer for minimum wage and is a single mother to a 6-year-old son. She has to reach out to family, friends, church and charities for help just to pay the rent. She works hard but still struggles.

A report released by the White House in March confirmed what most of us already know, that “women in the workforce are more highly concentrated in low-wage sectors such as personal care and healthcare support occupations, and that women account for more than half (55 percent) of all workers who would benefit from increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10.” And the National Women’s Law Center reports “women of color are disproportionately represented among minimum wage workers. Twenty-two percent of minimum wage workers are women of color, compared to less than 16 percent of workers overall.”

Here in California, while the higher-than-federal state minimum wage has landed California on the list of states with the smallest wage gap compared to men, California women on average still make just 83.7% of what men make. Upcoming increases in the state minimum wage – to $9 on July 1 of this year and to $10 in January 2016 – will no doubt help to shrink that gap. But here in the Bay Area we must do more.

According to the California Budget Project, Alameda County is in the metropolitan area that ranks seventh in the country with the widest gap between rich and poor. More and more families are finding it harder to make ends meet, and the purchasing power of the minimum wage simply has not kept up with living expenses.

In their report Local Minimum Wage Laws: Impacts on Workers, Families and Businesses, authors from UC Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment note that “researchers consistently find that minimum wage laws raise pay for workers at the bottom rungs of the labor market. These increases include both directly affected workers (those earning between the old and the new minimum wage) as well as those indirectly affected (those earning above, but near, the new minimum wage).” And the research on the impact on businesses of a minimum wage increase is not bad, either.

Studies examining the impacts of San Francisco’s and Santa Fe’s local minimum wage laws have found “no statistically significant negative effects on employment our hours (including in low-wage industries such as restaurants.” And while the economic stimulus created by the increased spending power of low-wage workers who are impacted by a minimum wage increase has not been estimated, we do know that these workers are more likely to spend “a significant portion of those increased earnings.”

Beyond all the data, studies and research reports, we must not forget the true impact of local minimum wage increases on workers and their families. Essence Hope may live and work in Oakland, but Berkeley has a lot of families like her’s, and as a progressive community it should be striving to do more to lift up everyone. We encourage the Berkeley City Council to pass a local minimum wage with no exclusions.

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related, local authors are preferred, and we don’t publish anonymous pieces. Please email submissions to us. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

Amy Shrago and Annie Flores are Co-Presidents of NWPC-AN, a 40-year-old organization with 300+ local members serving Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, Piedmont and San Leandro committed to increasing women’s participation in the political process and creating a true women’s political power-base to achieve equality for all women.