In the fall semester of 2010, a San Jose State University sociology class created an idea to benefit their community: to raise the city’s minimum wage.
After gathering more than 40,000 signatures, the students’ proposal became Measure D, an official measure on the November ballot. The citizens of San Jose now have a chance to enact this significant legislation.
As USC students, we are uniquely positioned in a community that is also significantly affected by minimum-wage legislation.
The minimum wage has already been increased in San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Santa Fe, N.M. — students should follow San Jose’s example and support and lobby for a similar measure in Los Angeles.
Measure D would increase San Jose’s minimum wage by 25 percent, from $8 to $10. With endorsements from Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and a host of California assembly members, it is entirely possible that the wage increase will be approved.
With a poverty rate of almost 20 percent, approximately 1 million children living under the poverty level and a minimum wage that puts those receiving it significantly below the estimated living wage, a minimum wage increase in Los Angeles would be a major benefit for millions of people.
This is not some far-off problem, either. A quick walk down Figueroa Street includes McDonald’s, Subway and many other companies that pay minimum wage. The campus center itself is home to Panda Express, Carl’s Jr. and California Pizza Kitchen. USC students interact with people who are being paid below the living wage every day.
The main argument against raising the minimum wage is that it will hurt small businesses. But according to a National Employment Law Project report, nearly 70 percent of businesses that pay their workers minimum wage have more than 100 employees — and many are large, international corporations.
Though a select number of people continue to benefit from the current minimum wage, they are far outnumbered by those who depend on it. A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study reveals that nearly 75 million Americans hold minimum wage jobs. Few people realize, however, just how difficult it is to live on a minimum wage job.
While inflation continues to rise and the cost of living continues to expand, minimum wage has continued to stagnate.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index inflation calculator, minimum wage is worth 30 percent less than it was in 1968, and if raised in accordance with inflation the current minimum wage would be $10.55 an hour. Though raising the minimum wage to $10 would still fall under this inflated rate, a person working 40 hours per week would be earning $320 more per month. An extra $320 per month for someone who is working on minimum wage and trying to support themselves or their family, however, would make a tremendous difference.
Raising the minimum wage in Los Angeles would also lead to a domino effect of benefits: A high number of increased salaries would spark increased spending that would, in turn, boost the local economy.
Increasing Los Angeles’ minimum wage is only one beneficial measure that could be taken by USC students, as numerous other issues currently impact the city and the area surrounding USC. Any of them could benefit immensely from student help.
Whether or not you agree with Measure D, it is undeniably extraordinary that a group of college students and a sociology professor took a class project and propelled it so far outside the classroom that it is now a referendum up for vote.
Not only is USC full of resources, connections and information that students should use to take action and spark change, it is located in a community that would especially benefit from this kind of student initiative.
Students should remember this, and hey — who knows, you might just change the law in a major American city.
Mat Goldstein is an undeclared sophomore.