Although some Fresno small business owners believe raising the minimum wage to $15 will hurt them and a Valley economist can see both sides, those who serve local impoverished communities believe the increase could do wonders.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Monday that will gradually raise the California minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022, saying it was the state’s moral imperative to provide a living wage to residents.
The Rev. Art Gramaje of St. Anthony Mary Claret Catholic Church in southeast Fresno said that any increase in the minimum wage “tremendously helps families in our area and other poorer areas.”
“If someone works full time, they should be able provide basic needs – pay rent, buy food and clothing – for their families,” Gramaje said. “That can’t be done right now.”
Gramaje is also a part of Faith in Community, a coalition of faith leaders bent on reducing poverty and social inequality in Fresno. He believes that poverty is the root of serious issues such as high school dropout rates, teen pregnancy, drug abuse and crime. Increasing wages will help, but it’s also important for schools and faith organizations to mentor young families – many of which are single-parent families.
If someone works full time, they should be able provide basic needs – pay rent, buy food and clothing – for their families. That can’t be done right now.
The Rev. Art Gramaje of St. Anthony Mary Claret Catholic Church in southeast Fresno
Gramaje paraphrased Pope Francis, who he said has shined a much larger light on poverty in the modern world.
“He says that people are the focus of economic life,” Gramaje said. “The economy should serve the people – not the other way around. If wages are low and people are exploited, it serves the economy but not the people.”
Although homelessness has declined considerably in Fresno County, poverty remains an issue.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 22 percent of families in Fresno County were below the poverty level in 2014. Nearly 53 percent of all single mothers in the county had incomes below the poverty line.
Fresno County Department of Social Services director Delfino Neira said that close to 200,000 unemployed and underemployed people receive financial assistance from the county.
“These changes will assist many of them with transitioning off of public assistance,” Neira said. “We’re fully supportive of things that can help families become more independent.”
As of Monday, the maximum income a family can earn while receiving county assistance has not changed. Neira said he was not aware of any looming increases to the maximum to coincide with the wage increase, but those could come at the state or federal level at any time. If they do not, Fresno County would presumably pay out less and less to those receiving aid to supplement their job earnings.
Service Employees International Union Local 2015, which represents thousands of service industry workers in the area, held a viewing party to watch Brown sign SB 3. The bill was pushed through the state Assembly with the backing of many labor groups, including the SEIU and the United Farm Workers of America.
Attempts to reach the SEIU and UFW on Monday afternoon were not successful.
Valley business groups have argued that the minimum wage boost could cost low-wage workers jobs and force businesses to change how they operate – or leave the state.
“A raise of this magnitude this quickly represents a devastating blow to California’s businesses and employers,” Nathan Ahle, president and chief executive officer of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, said in an opinion piece published last weekend by The Bee. “I’m certain we will all be witness to more businesses being lost and many jobs moving to surrounding states that have more business-friendly climates.”
Jeff Michael, director of the Center for Business Policy and Research at University of the Pacific in Stockton, has said the increase won’t necessarily spell doom. Workers will get a fatter paycheck, and businesses will have to adjust. Some will likely raise prices, and some may look for labor-saving technology to replace low-wage workers, he said.
The wage increases will benefit many workers in the central San Joaquin Valley.
According to the University of California, Berkeley, Labor Center, nearly 300,000 workers in Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties will be affected. Fresno County accounts for 193,000 of these.
As part of its report released on March 30, the Labor Center also broke down exactly who will benefit most statewide. More than half of the workers who will receive a pay raise are Latino, as Latinos are most likely to earn low wages. About 53 percent of workers getting raises did not attend college, but 13 percent have a bachelor’s degree. About two-thirds of workers slotted for pay increases work full time.
Number of workers affected by minimum wage increase