By Jorge Rosales, Laney College Student
I remember being paid $5.75 an hour at my first job as a host at Hobee’s, a brunch restaurant in 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 working a summer job.
Eventually, I got tired of dealing with the hectic weekend brunch crowd and went back to asking my parents to buy the things I needed in exchange for decent grades.
I am now 28, working 20 hours a week at $14 an hour, working on nursing school prerequisites, and using 50 percent of my income to pay rent in the increasingly popular Temescal neighborhood of Oakland.
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?
Measure FF, a ballot initiative in Oakland, is 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 health insurance premium or 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, or 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.
Before being hired at my current place of employment, I worked full-time in healthcare and office administration for over seven 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 industry, and also because I saw how my friends and family with degrees outside of the STEM sciences were fairing 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 the unbridled rent increases. Even if they had the means to help me, I am no longer the 14-year old boy who can run back to them when tired of working.
These are the reasons why I am prioritizing my education over immediate financial security. 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 a policy that will hold our employers to a living wage.
Jorge Rosales is a student at Laney College.