Pasadena is a city of contrasts. It is a wealthy city. Yet, Pasadena is also one of the most unequal cities in California. Thousands of residents struggle to meet their basic needs.
At the same time, it is a generous city. It is home to an extraordinary number of nonprofit organizations that serve our most vulnerable populations — low-income families, the homeless, people without health insurance, people with disabilities and special needs, and people seeking to improve their lives by gaining job skills.
As leaders of Pasadena’s nonprofit sector who interact with some of our neediest community members, we believe strongly in the importance of increasing the minimum wage. It is an essential public policy solution that will address one of our community’s greatest obstacles to justice.
Most low wage earners work full time and full year. As the Pasadena’s Tale of Two Cities: 2019 report reveals, “The stereotype of a minimum wage worker as a summer employed teenager is entirely misleading.” Many Pasadenans work at two jobs just to make ends meet. In some families, two parents work three or four jobs and still struggle to put a roof over their children’s heads and provide them with food, clothing and other necessities.
About one-fifth of Pasadena households — roughly 10,000 households — get by on incomes below $25,000. In the past five years, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment has increased from $2,200 to $2,900. More than half (52 percent) of all Pasadena renters pay over 30 percent of household incomes just to keep a roof over their heads. Among renters who earn less than $15 per hour, 31 percent of renters pay over one-half of their earnings in rent and 62 percent pay more than the recommended 30 percent level.
In 2016, the Pasadena City Council voted unanimously to gradually raise the minimum wage in five annual steps setting a goal of $15 hour by July 1, 2020 — like Los Angeles City and County. But, unlike the City of Los Angeles and LA County, the Pasadena ordinance is unique: it requires the Pasadena City Council to vote in February 2019 whether to continue with the last two raise steps on the path to $15.
Once again, a diverse coalition of religious, nonprofit, community, civic, labor, and other organizations has come together to help ensure that the Pasadena City Council keeps its promise to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by July 1, 2020.
The minimum wage law has been a significant benefit to tens of thousands of Pasadena families. We have heard many low-income workers describe how the additional income has improved their families’ lives, making it easier for them to afford basic necessities such as rent, food, clothing and health care.
The lives of low-income families will be even better, however, if the City Council votes to continue increasing the minimum wage to $14.25 per hour on July 1, 2019 and $15 per hour on July 1, 2020. Studies demonstrate that lifting families out of poverty creates an array of benefits, including improving health and student achievement among children from low-income families.
We want to keep Pasadena on a level playing field with its neighbors in Los Angeles and Altadena. Pasadena residents who work in LA and Altadena come home and spend their added income in Pasadena’s businesses. Pasadena, LA and Altadena residents who work in Pasadena help improve the region’s economy with the additional income and buying power. The Pasadena City Council should not dismantle that regional compact.
In addition, as executives at our respective organizations, we reject the argument that an increased minimum wage will be unduly burdensome to nonprofits. Rather, our continued ability to meet many Pasadenans’ needs depends on our ability to recruit and retain the best staff — something we can only do with fair wages.
In order to attract trained, qualified and dedicated employees, nonprofit agencies must pay a living, competitive wage like any other business. With government and charitable funders increasingly requiring nonprofits to produce sophisticated outcome metrics, program audits and effectiveness measures, this is especially important.
There is absolutely no logic and certainly no justice in paying an office worker, or a janitor, or a youth outreach employee who works for a nonprofit organization any less than someone holding the same job working at a for-profit company or for a government agency. They have the same skills. They all have to support their families.
We are deeply grateful for the donations of time, money and volunteerism that our organizations depend on every day. Yet, we are also acutely aware of the limits of philanthropy in addressing the needs of our low-income residents. The plain fact is that our organizations simply cannot serve all the people who need our help.
Moreover, we believe that we cannot and should not rely primarily on charity to address these needs. Our goal should be justice, not charity. Justice is served when, through public policy, all people are able to help themselves and their children achieve a decent life.
Raising the minimum wage will serve not only low-wage workers; it will also boost our local economy. Wage earners, local businesses, nonprofits and city government would all benefit from this significant economic growth.
We urge our mayor and City Council to do the right thing and vote to gradually increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020 and, thereafter, increase with the rate of inflation.
If the Pasadena City Council fails to keep its promise, it is essentially cutting the wages and incomes of the families who work hard and play by the rules but have a hard time making ends meet in this expensive city. We want Pasadena not only to be the “City of Roses,” but also the “City of Raises.”
JESSICA KUBEL, YWCA Pasadena-Foothill Valley*
CHANEL BOUTAKIDIS, Five Acres*
ANNE MISKEY, Union Station Homeless Services*
CHRISTY ZAMANI, Day One Pasadena*
AKILA GIBBS, Pasadena Senior Center*
STELLA MURGA, Adelante Youth Alliance*
ALLEN EDSON, NAACP Pasadena branch*
RABBI JOSHUA LEVINE-GRATER, Friends in Deed*
DOROTHY KEANE, League of Women Voters Pasadena Area*
PABLO ALVARADO, National Day Laborers Organizing Network*
*Organizational affiliations listed for identification purposes only