Two and a half years after the Occupy Movement jolted the country, America is once again abuzz with talk about poverty and inequality. Of course, along with a heightened focus on the problem come lots of ideas for fixing it. Some are smart, others are not, but nearly all of them share one thing in common: They are complicated.
The status quo “solution” isn’t complicated – at least on paper. It’s the one proposed by former Reagan official Herbert Meyer, who, on his website The Cure for Poverty, offers a three-word remedy: the free market.
Meyer, who worked at the CIA, may have been too busy warding off the enemy to notice that market forces have enjoyed one of the most unfettered periods in recent American history, even as poverty and inequality have risen inexorably. But he is surely onto something with his one-step prescription.
So I have my own,
Who says debating the need for a living wage is like talking to a brick wall? The recent experience of one health care provider and its employees shows how respectful and reasonable such discussions can be.
Tomorrow (Thursday, March 13), a pivotal agreement between labor and management will be announced that offers hope for the living wage movement. St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, a nonprofit network of community health centers, and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 721 will unveil a new collective bargaining agreement that will result in the centers’ front-line health care employees receiving a $15 hourly living wage. The contract was unanimously ratified by rank and file members March 3.
St. John’s provides health services at 10 centers and clinics throughout Central and South Los Angeles. Its president and CEO, Jim Mangia, issued a statement that said, in part, “We put forward the proposal for a living wage because we want our health centers to be the best places to give and to receive care.
In 1999 the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a Living Wage Ordinance applicable to private businesses that contract with the county to provide certain services, including landscaping, janitorial and security. The reason for the ordinance was simple: The state’s minimum wage at the time — $5.75 per hour—was insufficient and the failure of some county contractors to pay their workers living wages was placing financial burdens on L.A. County by causing these employees to use social and health services provided by the county.
The board set the living wage initially at $9.46 per hour without health benefits, or at $8.32 per hour if an employer offered health benefits worth at least $1.14 per hour. Since then, the living wage has been raised only once, in 2006, when the board approved an increase to the current level of $11.84 per hour without health benefits, or $9.64 with health benefits valued at $2.20 per hour.