July 14, 2006

Living on Minimum Wage in San Diego

By Luis Perez

Francisco Cerón is a minimum wage earning worker living in San Diego, with three kids to support. Like many unskilled employees, Francisco has to work two full-time jobs at minimum wage just to make ends meet to support his family of five.

Every day he cleans restaurants from ten at night to six in the morning, and cleans office buildings from ten am to six pm.

“I would like to see a raise in the minimum wage the same way prices go up. Just like gas prices go up, salaries should be raised so we can make a decent living and live decently”.

California legislators are considering two bills that would raise the minimum wage one dollar an hour in a period of two years, and implement an “indexing” system of future increases, guaranteeing regular minimum wage raises on a yearly basis, proportional to the state’s inflation rate.

Two bordering states, Washington and Oregon, have already passed laws similar to AB1835 and SB1162, and use the indexing system to keep a balance between the minimum wage and the increase in the cost of living.

Governor Schwarzenegger has agreed to raise the minimum wage from $6.75 an hour to $7.25 in 2006 and $7.75 in 2007. However, he is opposed to the systematic increases and has stated that he will veto any legislation containing the indexing system.

According to Victoria Samaha, head organizer of the San Diego chapter of the antipoverty advocacy group ACORN, this is a maneuver to keep his popularity intact during the electoral season.

“Salary raises shouldn’t be used as political tools to benefit a certain candidate’s interest during electoral season. It should be something according to the citizen’s social and economic needs, particularly of those who work the most and do the hardest, toughest jobs that nobody wants to do but have to be done”.

The two bills have caused controversy between community advocates and business leaders over whether this salary increase will affect California’s struggling financial situation more than it helps low income workers.

The California Chamber of Commerce is opposing these bills, calling it “unwise autopilot spending” that eliminates the ability of decision makers to consider all of the impacts each increase will have on employees and employers.

The Chamber believes that tying increases in the state minimum wage to inflation, and ignoring other factors such as the strength of the state’s economy will inevitably result in increases in the minimum wage, at times when the economy is ill-suited to absorb higher employer costs.

Jean Ross, Executive Director of the California Budget Project, a Sacramento based NGO which recently published a study outlining important facts about the minimum wage, suggests that most of the academic research that’s been done on the impact of a modest minimum wage increase suggests that there is very little, if any, negative impact on jobs.

The study also found that a minimum wage income does not buy as much as it used to.

“We found that since the purchasing power of the California‘s minimum wage peaked in 1968, the decline hasn’t kept pace with inflation and today the minimum wage buys about a third less than it did back in 68” said Ross. 

For now, Francisco and thousands of minimum wage earning workers are hoping for a positive turnout for the two proposed bills, because it might be their way to a better life condition for his family.

“We are two adults and three children living in a two bedroom apartment, and we have to share a room so we can rent out the other and get some extra money to survive. I would like a raise in the salary according to the cost of living so I can make a decent living and move my kids to another place, maybe a little home”.

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