“Will the SF minimum wage hike kill our restaurants?” Zagat SF tweeted last week.
No, Chicken Little, it won’t. Not even if you tweet it.
Two days earlier, the Board of Supervisors had unanimously approved a measure for the November ballot to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018, up from where it stands at $10.74.
Zagat may be fine for restaurant reviews, but this attack on raising the minimum wage — which parroted fearmongering about high-priced burgers and relied heavily on a narrative served up by a powerful business lobby, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association — was enough to cause heartburn.
And it’s only one example of the backlash directed at low-wage workers since the bid to boost the minimum wage has picked up steam. A now-infamous billboard that popped up in SOMA, funded by conservative lobbying group Employment Policies Institute, taunted minimum-wage workers by claiming they would be replaced with iPads if they didn’t give up the fight for higher pay.
The proposed minimum wage increase, actually a compromise that turned out weaker than an initial proposal spearheaded by a progressive coalition that would have delivered $15 an hour a year earlier, is backed by business-friendly Mayor Ed Lee. Even the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce has expressed support for it. Still, some conservative interests seem bent on ensuring that minimum-wage workers never achieve living-wage status — demonstrating how out of touch these naysayers are.
Once better known for its rich labor history and track record of holding employers accountable for wage theft and discriminatory practices, San Francisco is better known these days as one of the nation’s highest-ranking cities for income inequality.
Scraping by at a minimum wage job translates to a stressful existence. Even if minimum-wage earners were currently earning $31,000 a year, the amount a full-time $15-an-hour job would bring in before taxes, it wouldn’t begin to stretch far enough to rent a market-rate apartment. Earlier this year, the National Low Income Housing Coalition pointed out that a renter’s got to earn at least $29.83 an hour — or $62,046 annually — to afford a San Francisco one-bedroom at market rate.
Meanwhile, those spouting doomsday scenarios over a higher minimum wage seem blind to the fact that the city is regularly populated with hordes of tourists and well-compensated San Francisco professionals with a penchant for fine food, even if it’s pricey.
Just for a sense of how much cash is pumping through the local economy, the San Francisco Center for Economic Development reports that San Francisco claimed 40 percent of all venture capital investment in the Bay Area last year, with nearly $5 billion in VC funding invested in 2013. Meanwhile, 16.5 million visitors flocked to the Bay Area last year — can anyone really claim with a straight face that a higher minimum wage for restaurant workers will prevent this army of tourists from chowing down at local restaurants?
Instead of having a debate about whether we ought to raise the minimum wage, a better conversation would focus on the consequences of allowing the city’s sharp inequality to continue unchecked.