By Laurie Allee
I'm stepping back onto my South Pas virtual front porch to talk about something that is important to me: raising the minimum wage in South Pasadena to $15 per hour.
When I moved to Los Angeles in 1988, I was young, idealistic and broke. Lucky for me, I had an education and some basic office skills that allowed me to find temporary work while I was trying to get my career off the ground – and eventually pay back all of my student loans.
I’ll never forget when I signed on with a local temp agency -- remember this is in 1988 – and the agency representative told me that with my administrative skills of typing 60 words per minute as well as my knowledge of Microsoft Word and Excel, I would make $12 per hour on my assignments. If I could do transcription, I’d earn $15 per hour. These numbers were for basic secretarial work. At the time, rents in Pasadena were about $750 a month for an average apartment.
Flash forward 30 years later, and those same apartments go for an average of $2100 a month. I won’t even mention other costs of living. We all know that they, too, have risen dramatically in three decades.
Wages, however, have stagnated. That local temp agency will now offer about the same as they did three decades ago: an average of $12-15 per hour -- with a little more for transcription. Temp agencies are a good place to judge salaries in general because they represent what companies are willing to pay their workers. Many of these temp jobs lead to permanent positions – at similar hourly rates. Minimum wage is a large driver of most low to middle wage salaries because as long as the minimum stays low, the next level (that old 60 word per minute Microsoft word secretarial job, for example) stays low, too.
We can’t stand by and say that the Fight for Fifteen is a pie-in-the-sky idea if we look at the reality of today’s cost of living. (That $15 I earned in 1988, for example, is worth $32 today if we adjust for inflation. I can promise you no temp job is offering anyone $32 an hour to do Microsoft Word.) Minimum wage drives all wages. Multiple studies conclude that total annual incomes rise significantly after a minimum wage increase.
So we have to ask ourselves in South Pasadena: why are we dragging our feet on something so obvious? Why are we pretending that paying fair wages is unnecessary here – when just blocks away the cities of Pasadena and Los Angeles think otherwise? Why do we in South Pasadena assume it’s just too much of a hassle?
South Pasadena can afford $15 an hour.
A living minimum wage is a hallmark of a functioning civilization. South Pasadena must join the growing list of other California cities who recognize $15 an hour is not an extravagance, but the bare minimum we can fairly pay workers to do a job. A $15 minimum wage would begin to reverse decades of growing pay inequality between the lowest-paid workers and the middle class. Here are some national minimum wage statistics from the Economic Policy Institute:
- · Failure to increase the minimum wage accounts 48% of the increase in inequality between women at the middle and bottom of wage distribution since 1979.
- · The average worker who would benefit from a $15 minimum wage is a 35-year-old woman with some college coursework who works full time.
- · Fewer than 10% of minimum wage earners are teens, and more than half are adults between the ages of 25 and 54. More than half are women.
- · 44% have some college experience – many with outstanding student loan debt.
- · 28% have children.
- · The average minimum wage worker with a spouse or child provides 52% of his or her family income.
We must join Los Angeles, Pasadena and other local cities in recognizing that $15 an hour is necessary for workers to be able to afford to live in our community and contribute to our economy. I want to attract workers to work in my city. I want them to be paid fairly. I want them to spend money at our local businesses – to shop on Mission and have dinner at Gus's or Bistro de la Gare and then have enough to splurge on the Raymond at Fair Oaks Pharmacy (and then maybe stop off at Rite Aid for antacid...)
I want my city to do the right thing.
If you agree with me, join other South Pasadena residents at tomorrow’s City Council Meeting to let our city officials know. South Pasadena can afford a $15 an hour minimum wage.
Learn more here.