You Tell Us: Why I support Measure FF to raise the minimum wage
on October 28, 2014
I remember being paid $5.75 an hour at my first job as a host at Hobee’s, a brunch restaurant in the East Bay town of Fremont where I grew up. The dismal pay rate felt like a significant amount of money at the time, but then again it was the year 2000, I was living with my parents, and I was only 14. My older sister, who was in high school at the time, got me the summer job. I was fascinated by the complex lives I would overhear the older 20- to 30-something year old waiters and waitresses talk about. The cooks and busboys had their own jovial charm and would let me in on their banter. Eventually, I got tired of dealing with the hectic weekend brunch crowd and went back to asking my parents to buy me things I needed in exchange for decent grades. Years later, the restaurant closed down and I never thought to ask myself what happened to my former coworkers. I am now 28, working 20 hours a week at $14 an hour, using 50 percent of that income to pay rent in the increasingly popular Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, and working on nursing school prerequisites. If a $5.75 hourly wage felt like so much 14 years ago, why does a $14 hourly wage leave me feeling like I’m barely surviving today? It’s hard to imagine how my coworkers at Hobee’s were surviving on $5.75 an hour all those years ago, many of them with families to support.
Measure FF is a ballot initiative in Oakland looking to raise the minimum wage from $9 an hour to $12.25 an hour. That $3.25 hourly increase provides someone working 40 hours a week with roughly an extra $520 each month. That alone might cover somebody’s car payment, health insurance, or help cover daycare costs. Even though I will not see a bigger paycheck if Measure FF passes, I think of my current coworkers, many of whom are currently making less than $12.25 an hour. Measure FF might allow them to let go of one of their three jobs to spend more time with friends or family, or allow them to finally finish college. They might be able to upgrade to their own room in a shared home, instead of living three people to a living room in West Oakland. Their sense of self-worth might rise as their hard work is finally acknowledged by a living wage.
Personally, I will recover some of the faith I’ve lost in our government’s ability to provide opportunities for its citizens. Some might ask why I am not working more than 20 hours a week, why I don’t find a second or third job like my coworkers. Before arriving at my current place of employment, I worked full-time in healthcare and office administration for over 7 years. I was constantly passed up for advancement opportunities due to my lacking a college degree, but I found it difficult to let go of my “secure” employment to finish my education. Then in 2013 I was laid off from a non-profit I loved dearly, and I decided I had to do things differently. I enrolled in school and chose to pursue a nursing degree, partly because of my experience in the healthcare field and also because I had seen how my friends and family with degrees outside of the STEM sciences were faring in our current economy. My parents, like those of many who grew up in the Bay Area, are on the brink of being pushed out of their home due to unbridled rent increases. Even if they had the means to help me, I am no longer the 14-year-old boy that can run back to them when tired of working. These are the reasons why I am prioritizing my education over immediate financial security, why I have not taken on a second and third job. If my government cannot provide me with adequate health insurance or an affordable education, I hope they will at least allow the will of the people to vote in policy that will hold our employers to a living wage.
As a true millennial, I have learned to adapt to the lightning fast pace of change in the increasingly connected world of today. I have also learned the importance of taking ownership of our part in that change. I do not know for sure if my risk of betting on a nursing education will fulfill my dreams of growing old and maybe even raising a family in the community I grew up in, but I feel confident my efforts in creating a more socially just and sustainable society through initiatives such as Measure FF will get me one step closer.
Jorge Rosales is a pre-nursing student at Laney College. Born in Oakland and raised in Fremont, California, he has volunteered with various social justice organizations such as Oakland Rising and Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
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