Last week, Santa Monica took the long overdue step of raising the city-wide minimum wage and over the next four years, our community’s lowest-paid employees will see their pay go up to $15 an hour.
It is a testament to our city’s commitment to good governance that the decision was preceded by months of outreach to community stakeholders, business leaders, and labor representatives in order to hash out the details and to avoid repeating battles of the past fought over this issue. And, with some disagreement on the details of implementation, the City Council took the wise and proactive step of continuing to engage the community through an ongoing working group as the ordinance begins to roll out later this year.
As we work together to ensure the new minimum wage ordinance benefits our whole community, it is important to remember that higher wages are a necessary, but not sufficient, step in combating poverty and the widening wealth gap in this country.
All over our country, wages have remained stagnant for decades. At the same time, essential costs — like housing, transportation, and health care — have begun to skyrocket, especially in our cities where there are plenty of jobs and, increasingly, a dire scarcity of homes.
Santa Monica is a regional employment center with a diverse economy, thanks to the many job providers who have chosen our city as a place to do business. That success assures that Santa Monica can continue to provide the high level of services our community has come to expect.
It also means that tens of thousands of people commute in daily. For those who have no choice but to drive, it is expensive, not only in terms of time lost, but also in terms of paying for fuel and maintenance. A high quality public transportation system, like the Big Blue Bus and Metro’s growing network of buses and trains, and a network of safe, comfortable bike routes can give people affordable alternatives to the expensive burden of car dependency.
Even better would be if those people could afford to live closer to their work. A shorter commute would make biking, busing, and walking to work all the more feasible for many. In a place like Santa Monica, which has experienced a booming economy and tremendous job growth over the last couple of decades while our housing stock has remained relatively stagnant, it’s an option many can barely afford, if at all.
It is estimated that nearly 60 percent of renters in the region are rent-burdened, which means they pay more than 30 percent of the income to keep a roof over their heads. That burden, which disproportionately impacts lower-income households, means people have to make unfortunate tradeoffs. Money eaten up for such a basic necessity as shelter could be spent on education, healthcare, or better nutrition.
As we have noted in previous columns, this is a problem in Santa Monica not only for low-income households, but increasingly for those earning moderate incomes as well.
Like rent and transportation, healthcare is an expense few people can afford to forgo. The Affordable Care Act has expanded the number of people who have access to insurance and, as such, access to essential medical treatment.
In Santa Monica, we are fortunate enough to have a thriving healthcare industry.
While the cost of healthcare isn’t something our city can have direct control over, we can work with community partners like UCLA and Providence Saint John’s to assure that they can adapt to the changing landscape of the healthcare industry. We can also work with them to make sure that access for all patients is possible, not only those with the most expensive insurance plans. And we can work with these community partners to help provide a safety net for the most vulnerable in our community.
We, as a community, have been committed to striving for a more equitable and just city, region, and world. Making sure people are paid livable wages is essential to achieving these goals, but so too is addressing these other issues.
Judy Abdo, Daniel Shenise, Michael Folonis, Frederick Zimmerman, Sharon Klein-Hart, John Hart, Elena Christopoulos, Richard Brand, Jerry Rubin, Cynthia Rose, Ernie Powell, and Leslie Lambert for Santa Monica Forward. Read more columns at santamonicaforward.org.