Welcome to Friday Facts! Each week we’ll be taking a look at a specific chart from the Data & Resources section of our website. This week we’re focusing on living wage in Alameda County.
If you haven’t heard, we are currently living in an era of nearly unprecedented income inequality in the United States. While the whole country is experiencing this phenomenon, it is especially noticeable in the Bay Area, where a recent study found that both San Francisco (2nd) and Oakland (7th) rank in the top 10 cities with the most income inequality.
For today’s edition of Friday Facts, we’re going to focus on the East Bay and in particular Alameda County, of which the City of Oakland represents a sizable portion. On our site, we have a chart examining, by race and ethnicity, the percentage of families of four in Alameda County that make a living wage. In this data set, the California Department of Public Health determines a living wage to be at least $22.64 an hour and is defined as “the hourly wage rate or annual income that a sole provider working full time (2080 hours/yr) must earn to provide his/her family a minimum standard of living, covering costs of food, child care, health insurance, housing, transportation, and other necessities.”
Even a cursory glance at the numbers would show striking disparities along racial and ethnic lines, with all communities of color seeing higher rates of families earning below a living wage than Whites. Latino families, for example, are five times as likely to earn less than a living wage than are Whites.
Such income inequality has been shown to be a root cause of many health disparities. In a recent study examining the impacts of a minimum wage increase on health in the Bay Area, the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative found significant health benefits:
“A Bay Area-wide minimum wage increase would benefit the health and well-being of nearly 1 million low-wage earners. A large body of research literature on wage, income, and health demonstrates that public policy interventions that aim to increase the incomes of low income populations will increase income equality and economic security as well as lower mortality rates, improve overall health status in the population, decrease health inequity, and lower overall healthcare costs.”
And there is good news on the minimum wage front in the Bay Area. In November, a ballot proposition passed easily (with 81.2% of the vote) to raise the minimum wage to $12.25 an hour. And just this week, another Alameda County city, Emeryville, announced plans to raise its minimum wage to as high as $14 an hour. Meanwhile, across the Bay in San Francisco, a referendum passed in November to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour, one of the highest rates in the country. Richmond, Berkeley, and others have also enacted measures to raise their minimum wages.
Raising the minimum wage is a great start toward reducing the negative impacts of income inequality in the Bay Area and across the country. If you would like more information on minimum wage and living wage and their impacts, including what organizations are working on these efforts, check out the great resources at the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.