A Father, a Daughter and a Living Wage Lesson

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May 24, 2012 in Labor & Economy

Long Beach living-wage campaigners

As the proud parent of a precocious four-year-old, I am often inspired and energized by my daughter’s inquisitive spirit and desire to take things apart to try and figure out how they work. When it comes to our ever-stimulating conversations, I almost always learn as much from her as she does from me, and at times I am simply blown away by her beyond-her-years wisdom and uncanny ability to cut right down to the heart of a matter.

“Daddy,” she asked me a few days ago on our drive in to preschool, “why is that man sleeping there on the sidewalk? Why isn’t he sleeping in his house?” I looked out the car window where she was pointing and saw a man covered in blankets lying down on a large piece of cardboard.

“Well honey,” I said, wondering what might be the best way of gently explaining to a four-year-old why some of us have while so many of us have not, “there are a lot of folks in this world who struggle to make ends meet, and a lot of people can’t even afford a place to live.” She stared back at me, wheels turning, but I knew I hadn’t really answered her question.

And just as I began to dig deep preparing to deliver the lecture on economic inequality her preschool teachers had clearly failed to give, she saved me.

“But daddy, there’s enough for everyone, right?” she suddenly offered matter-of-factly. She was already way ahead of me.

“Yes,” I said, “that’s right. There is enough for everybody.” I began to tear up a little as I realized just how meaningful that statement was to me. I made a mental note to someday thank her for giving me the clarity of purpose that morning I needed to face another day in this otherwise complicated world.

After dropping my daughter off at school, I noticed an email on my phone with a news report about a community coalition in Long Beach announcing that it had successfully collected more than 30,000 signatures for a living wage ballot initiative. The measure could mean a larger piece of the pie for thousands of the city’s hotel workers and their families. Many of the Long Beach hotel workers earn as little as $8 an hour – far too little to support a family.

A similar living wage ordinance is currently being considered where I live in L.A. Here, the hospitality sector is one of the largest local employers and a key driver of the regional economy. Just like in Long Beach, hotel owners are enjoying increased business heading into summer as tourism steadily picks up steam following the recession. Still, an alarming 40 percent of L.A.’s hospitality workers and their families are living in poverty.

Critics of a living wage often point to certain “economic realities” – namely supply and demand – claiming that raising wages for the workers who keep these hotels in business will actually decrease demand for hotel rooms. But these textbook arguments against a living wage fail to address other crucial “economic realities.”

Just imagine the real difference a living wage will make for hotel workers, their families and the overall local economy. Poverty jobs mean tough choices that families simply should not have to make, while a living wage means real relief for families and stimulus for the local economy from increased purchasing of goods and services.

I admit I may only be slightly less naïve than my four-year-old, but I think she’s right: It’s time to put an end to poverty jobs and see to it that everyone gets what they need. After all, there really is enough for everyone. Wouldn’t you agree?

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Ed Gutierrez
Ed is a researcher for Raise LA. He joined LAANE in 2012 as a senior researcher for the Hospitality team. He spent more than 10 years as a researcher for both private and public sector labor unions where he specialized...
Read more articles by Ed Gutierrez

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