A Lift Out Of Poverty (Pasadena Weekly)

A Lift Out Of Poverty

Nonprofit leaders believe establishing a livable minimum wage is a matter of economic justice

By Jaylene Moseley , Marvin Gross10/15/2015

Pasadena is a city of contrasts. It is a wealthy city. Yet, Pasadena is also one of the most unequal cities in California. Thousands of residents struggle to meet their basic needs.

At the same time, it is a generous city. It is home to an extraordinary number of nonprofit organizations that serve our most vulnerable populations — low-income families, the homeless, people without health insurance, people with disabilities and special needs, and people seeking to improve their lives by gaining job skills. 

As leaders of Pasadena’s nonprofit sector who interact with some of our neediest community members, we, along with our colleagues Chanel Boutakidis, Five Acres; the Rev. Dr. Donna Byrns, Friends in Deed; Akila Gibbs, Pasadena Senior Center; Jessica Kubel, YWCA; Margaret Martinez, a nonprofit executive; Stella Murga, a nonprofit youth leader; and Michelle White with Affordable Housing Services, believe strongly in the importance of increasing the minimum wage. It is an essential public policy solution that will address one of our community’s greatest obstacles to justice. 

In addition, as executives at our respective organizations, we reject the argument that an increased minimum wage will be unduly burdensome to nonprofits. Rather, our continued ability to meet many Pasadenans’ needs depends on our ability to recruit and retain the best staff — something we can only do with fair wages. 

We are deeply grateful for the donations of time, money and volunteerism that our organizations depend on every day. Yet, we are also acutely aware of the limits of philanthropy in addressing the needs of our low-income residents. The plain fact is that our organizations simply cannot serve all the people who need our help. 

Moreover, we believe that we cannot and should not rely primarily on charity to address these needs. Our goal should be justice, not charity. Justice is served when, through public policy, all people are able to help themselves and their children achieve a decent life. That is why we strongly urge Pasadena’s elected officials to adopt a municipal minimum wage that will gradually increase to $15 per hour by 2020 and, thereafter, increase with the rate of inflation. 

According to the latest US Census data, more people live at or below the poverty level today in Pasadena than was the case before the Great Recession. In fact, today about 11,000 Pasadena households, over 20 per cent of all households, live in poverty. And, more than 22,000 Pasadena residents who are employed, about 32 percent of the entire working population, earn less than $15 an hour. 

Some may think that when California’s current minimum wage of $9 per hour increases to $10 per hour next year, this will alleviate this problem. However, even at $10 per hour, a full-time worker would earn only $20,800 annually, putting his or her family far below the current poverty level for a family of four of $24,250. The reality is a family simply cannot survive in Pasadena on a $10 per hour wage. That is why so many Pasadenans work at two jobs just to make ends meet and why, in some families, two parents work three or four jobs and still struggle to put a roof over their children’s heads and provide them with food, clothing and other necessities. 

Establishing a livable minimum wage is a matter of economic justice. Why should someone who works all year in Pasadena not be able to earn enough to live above the poverty level? Why should one in five families have to live in poverty even when their breadwinner is employed full time? The Pasadena City Council can correct this injustice by passing a minimum wage ordinance for Pasadena like those recently enacted by the city and county of Los Angeles. 

Raising the minimum wage will serve not only low-wage workers; it will also boost our local economy. Adopting a minimum wage of $15 per hour by 2020 will put $150 million a year into the Pasadena economy. Wage earners, local businesses, nonprofits and city government would all benefit from this significant economic growth. 

There are some who say that a minimum wage ordinance will cause great economic hardship for nonprofits. Based on the more than 220 years we and our seven colleagues collectively have spent in the nonprofit sector, much of it in Pasadena, we reject this argument. 

In order to attract trained, qualified and dedicated employees, nonprofit agencies must pay a living, competitive wage like any other business. With government and charitable funders increasingly requiring nonprofits to produce sophisticated outcome metrics, program audits and effectiveness measures, this is especially important. That is one reason why nearly 80 percent of the membership of the California Association of Nonprofits is in favor of a livable wage. 

There is absolutely no logic and certainly no justice in paying an office worker, or a janitor, or a youth outreach employee who works for a nonprofit organization any less than someone holding the same job working at a for-profit company or for a government agency. They have the same skills. They all have to support their families. 

We urge our mayor and City Council to do the right thing and enact a new $15 per hour minimum wage with no exemptions. In so doing, they will promote economic justice and improve the quality of life in this city we serve, in this city we love.

Marvin Gross is CEO of Union Station Homeless Services. Jaylene Moseley is president of the Flintridge Center.

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