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Economic Benefits of a Living Wage in the City of Santa Rosa
by Sonoma State Investigative Research Group
Wednesday May 9th, 2018 1:59 PM
Amy Badger, Elizabeth Munoz- Martin, Demi Gray, Austin Barcus, Blaze Carter, Brooke Santander, Crystal Mendoza, Sara Gong, Jeffrey Robinson
Economic Benefits of a Living Wage in the City of Santa Rosa

Sonoma State University
Amy Badger, Elizabeth Munoz- Martin, Demi Gray, Austin Barcus, Blaze Carter, Brooke Santander, Crystal Mendoza, Sara Gong, Jeffrey Robinson
Sociology 336: Investigative Sociology
Professor Phillips

Abstract
The Sonoma State Investigative research team conducted a study on the effect of raising the current minimum wage from $11.00 to $15.00 and $23.00 an hour. In order to collect accurate data, the team randomly distributed surveys comparing how consumers would spend their money if the minimum wage was $15.00 versus the living wage of $23.00. Results found that most respondents would spend their income on bills, food, gas and rent if the minimum wage was raised to $15.00 per hour. As Santa Rosa’s cost of living remains at an all time high, these results show that residents would benefit by being able to meet this extensive financial demand. When minimum wage workers receive $15 an hour, the extra money that they will be receiving will go towards necessities. This will impact the workers life because we will see change in the local economy. If the minimum wage were to be raised to $23 an hour, which is the current living wage in Sonoma County, we would see a positive impact in the local economy. This is because people will have enough money to cover necessities, and some money left over to spend it how they please - including entertainment, dining out, upgrades, etc. This research shows us that in order to see changes in the local economy and for a living wage to be met, the minimum wage in Sonoma County will need to be raised to $23.00 an hour.

Introduction

California is increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. This is great news since the minimum wage hasn’t been adjusted in years to compensate for inflation. Is $15 really enough though? The living wage in Sonoma County is $23 an hour - meaning someone would need to make this amount in order to cover their necessities. Since $15 an hour isn’t going to happen until 2020 and it still doesn’t cover essentials, lobbyists are trying to push for the increase in pay to advance before 2020. This is obviously going to have an impact on the individual- but we are curious if it is going to benefit the local economy, since a full-time minimum wage worker would be receiving approximately an extra $600 per month.

Literature Review

Do not confuse minimum wage and living wage. Both are supposed to prevent workers from living below the poverty level. Living wage takes into account the cost of necessities such as food, healthcare, rent, transportation, child care and taxes. Minimum wage has become lower than the living wage in most areas (Amadeo 2017). Minimum wage depends upon congress approved actions and is “determined” or “regulated” by either state or federal government (Brown 2015). Living wage is “not connected to any government measure of poverty” and is set by state or local governments as a guideline (Brown 2015).

As of 2013, 3.3 million hourly workers – including tipped employees, full-time students, disabled workers and others – earn at or below federal minimum wage. The largest number of persons at or below federal minimum wage are young (50.4% 16 to 24 years old), white (77%) with about half women, and part-time workers (64%). The majority work in the leisure and hospitality industry with retail, education, and health services following behind. By occupation, the job duties involve food-preparation, serving-related services, sales, and personal care (DeSilver 2014).

Minimum wage has lost its purchasing power. Some cities, counties, and states have set their own, higher minimum wage. “Near-minimum-wage” workers are those who make more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 in their states but less than $10.10 per hour (DeSilver 2017). These workers (young – half under thirty years old, mostly white to which 76% majority female) would benefit if the federal minimum wage was raised. The actual gross income of people who work in the food service industry may be higher than $10.00 due to tips, but certainly not near $15 per hour. A majority of the near-minimum-wage workers have no schooling beyond high school.

California recently became the first state to approve a $15 an hour minimum wage target. The process of increasing the state minimum wage to the target amount began in January 2018. Over a 7 year period, California minimum wage will rise incrementally from $11 to $15 an hour. The process will phase in sooner for some California cities: San Francisco by 2018, San Jose by 2019, and Los Angeles by 2020. Minimum wage, even at $15 per hour, is not enough income for one to sustain themselves – let alone a family of four – living here in Santa Rosa. In order to live comfortably, our workers need to make at least $23 per hour (Bennett 2018).

To put it into perspective, California’s minimum wage workforce is 5.6 million people, which is about a third of the state’s entire workforce. At a higher minimum wage earning of $15, they will receive a 24% pay increase a year or $3,700 annually. UC Berkeley researchers found that between 1979-2014 the inflation-hourly wages for the upper 10% of California increased by 35% and those at the bottom 60% fell by 6%. In 2015, the county of Sonoma approved a $15 per hour living wage law after a 2-year campaign gathered several thousand signatures (Bennett 2016). Although the increase was approved, it may not be enough for all the necessities people need to cover. People must pay the expenses of rent, food, transportation, (including gas, car repairs, and insurance), medical insurance, child-care, clothing, as well as telephone and internet services, but costs such as dental coverage, life insurance, education, and retirement investments may be left aside (Bennett 2016). Most individuals spend the bulk of their money on housing, transportation, and food (Morrell and Kiersz 2017).

Living wage calculations show the hourly rate an individual must earn in order to support a family within Sonoma County. The living wage for a single adult with no dependants is $13.92 per hour, for one adult with one child it is $29.42 per hour, and living wage for two adults, one working full-time, with two children in Sonoma County is $28.83 per hour. The numbers are based on individual expenses such as food, childcare, housing medical, transportation, annual taxes, and other expenses that may arise. We also see the typical annual salaries for different occupations within Sonoma County. For example, someone working in sales typically makes an annual salary of $30,115. An individual working within the food industry typically makes an annual salary of $24, 323. Most of these salaries are not feasible and restrict individuals residing within Sonoma County.

In 2014, the minimum wage was at $9 per hour. Employees earning minimum wage were making only about $270 per week, $540 in two weeks, and $1,080 per month; bringing the individuals to an annual gross income of $18,720. In the same year, Sonoma County’s average annual rent bill was $21, 600. In addition, the average annual home mortgage was $30,168, average annual grocery bill - $12,659, average annual dining out bill $3,662, average annual transportation bill - $2,400-$11,039, annual television, internet, and telephone service cost $960-$3,100 on average, annual credit card bills are $2,200 on average, and the annual household essentials were, on average, $130, 357. As Atkinson so poignantly puts in his article titled Cost of Living, “So, how’s a hard-working, honest man or woman supposed to eat?” (Atkinson 2014). That’s a pretty good question we think a lot people are still wondering today.

Most would agree that Sonoma County is a beautiful place to live, but unfortunately Santa Rosa is an expensive city to live in the North Bay (Kover 2012). The high cost of living relies heavily on the cost of housing and the cost of transportation. These two amenities are often what most low income households spend their income on, leaving no extra money to pay other necessities. Minimum wage must be increased so our low income individuals can at the very least afford shelter and mobility. Creating the wage floor by raising minimum wage to $15 per hour is a start, but it is not nearly enough. According to a new California Budget and Policy project report, it has been calculated for residents living within Sonoma County it would take two parents working full-time jobs earning $23 per hour each in order to support themselves and two children at home (Bennett 2018). The recent fires experienced in our city make paying for necessities such as housing even more difficult than they already were.

Affordable housing in Santa Rosa has been a long-standing issue. There has been a small supply of homes and an increasing demand, causing home prices and rents to skyrocket. The median rent price in Sonoma County increased by 17% (Bennett 2018). The cost of housing is considered not to exceed 30% of a monthly income (McCapes 2018). Incomes have not raised high enough to meet the increasing cost of housing. Due to the recent North Bay fires, the situation has been exasperated. Nearly 5,300 houses in Sonoma County were lost in October 2017 (Digitale 2018). In Santa Rosa, the Tubbs fire took 1,500 homes in the Coffee Park neighborhood as well as 1,800 structures in Fountain Grove, and 750 structures in the Larkfield/Wikiup areas to which most of the structures were residences (Krishnakumar et al 2017). Low-income renters are unable to compete with high-income residents for the limited number of homes available.

What makes things worse is the fires caused an economic blow to people in the community who clean homes, wash windows, maintain yards and clean pools in the neighborhoods that were affected (Espinoza 2017). Their jobs practically no longer exist in the area. In addition, half of the area’s largest food processors rely on 80% of local and immigrant workforce, to which these workers lost their tools and work equipment needed to be successful (Clark 2018). Finally, the local wine industry was hit the hardest. Vineyards burned down leaving 4,000-6,000 permanent farm workers without a job until the vines are re-planted (Clark 2018).

Increasing minimum wage to $15 per hour will help individuals. Raising it to the living wage of $23 per hour is better. A living wage creates a minimum income that accurately accounts for the cost of living today. Living wages lead to increased worker morale, health and a higher quality of service, which would ultimately help businesses and the local economy. By raising the living wage, workers would be less reliant on social services and spend more money on consumer goods, which would stimulate the economy. Children will benefit too. Studies have shown that higher income leads to better parenting, better school outcomes and better mental health (Lee 2016). Raising the minimum wage by $1 reduces 10% of child maltreatment (Schiller 2017).

There is a myth to debunk. The myth is with an increase in the minimum wage, “unemployment will rise” (Reich 2015) thus hurting the current workforce and their families. In his article, Reich describes a study which looked at neighboring counties whose minimum wage varied. The study did not reveal any difference in the unemployment rate. This indicates raising the minimum wage will not decrease jobs. There are several benefits for businesses, too. Outcomes of raising wages include worker productivity and reduction in turnover and absenteeism (Scott 2018).

Many news articles claim that if minimum wage were to increase, prices would have to increase as well to keep up with business revenue, but Zeynep Ton’s 2014 article Why Companies That Pay Above the Minimum Wage Come Out Ahead states that increasing minimum wage actually improves the company as a whole. Ton studied Costco, Trader Joe’s, QuikTrip, and Mercadona in Spain to explain how it is possible to pay employees decent wages while giving customers the low prices they are accustomed to. These four retail chains provide this service by following good job strategies that have two components: seeing their workforce as a strategic asset rather than a cost to be minimized and a good design in operations. The good jobs strategy is a positive business plan that most companies do not follow because most companies emphasize short term profits rather than long term rewards. Delivering low prices and receiving high profits is the short-term strategy; delivering low prices, great service, high profits, and good jobs is a long-term strategy. Building relationships with their employees and paying them well will result in employee retention, a higher skilled workforce, and an increase in sales from employees who look like the genuinely care about their job versus people who get paid poorly and have a negative attitude towards their job and customers.

Research Question

Our research question is how will raising the minimum wage to $15 affect the individual worker and the economy? Then, would the same effect apply if the minimum wage was increased to $23 an hour? We want to know what workers will spend the extra income that they are receiving on. We want to know how it will benefit the worker, and if it could potentially benefit the local economy. California passed a law to gradually increase the minimum wage until 2022, with it reaching $15 an hour. We are curious if the raise to $15 will be enough to positively impact the economy, or if it will need to be raised even higher for us to see any changes.

Methods

We created a survey targeting minimum wage workers in Sonoma County—this could be any county resident who makes an hourly wage of $11 to $12 an hour. The survey asked participants to list basic demographic information and respond to how they would spend extra earnings if their wage was raised to $15 an hour, and then $23 an hour. On the back, we created a checklist of possible spending options to help them be more specific. To help participants get an idea of how their salary would change, we created a table showing how much more money a person would make monthly depending on their original salary and wage increase. Once the survey and table was developed, we split our group into pairs to go out into the Sonoma County community and get responses. We used a list of random Santa Rosa home addresses, and went door to door to find our participants. From the first address we found, we continued to go to the next house until we found a minimum wage worker. Each person was responsible for at least 5 surveys so we can obtain 50 in total as a group. After we completed receiving survey responses, we entered the data into a database to see the results on what people would spend their extra money on if the minimum wage was increased to $15 and then $23 an hour.

For the safeguard of the students safety, students went in pairs of two going to randomly selected homes in Santa Rosa wearing their Sonoma State University identification cards and carried the surveys in clipboards. A full explanation of the project was given to each interviewee about what the study consisted of and what the surveys entails. Each individual then had the right to decline to participate and the right to decline to answer questions they did not feel comfortable with or felt was unrelated to the overall study. Confidentiality was ensured throughout the survey; no names was recorded, nor address in Sonoma County. All respondents were asked to provide consent before the survey questioning began and all 50 participants were given the opportunity to leave their contact information if they wished.

Results: Living Wage Survey

It has been a repeated statement that raising the minimum wage of people in Sonoma County will not only benefit the community, but businesses because they will achieve increased profits. The purpose of this study was to determine what people in Sonoma County will spend their money on if minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour. The second aspect of the study is to see the difference on what individuals would spend their money on if minimum was increased to the living wage for Sonoma county; $23 an hour . A total of 50 people were randomly selected and interviewed at their households. These individuals were asked a number of questions to indicate who was a minimum wage worker ($11 per hour). The survey then continued to ask each individual what they would spend the potential income increase on, with preset categories each participant checked the categories in which applied to their own personal lifestyle. Once all 50 surveys were conducted the data was then evaluated to see what areas of living community members seen as priorities to spend their potential income increase on.

For the purpose of this study in regards to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, a $2,400 increase in disposable income was assumed for individuals working over 40 hours a week and a $1,200 increase for individuals working less than 20 hours a week. Then in the hypothetical case of raising minimum wage to $23 an hour, a $3,680 increase would be assumed for individuals working over 40 hours a week, and about $1,840 increase for those individuals working 20 hours or less. According to these numbers if a individual works 80 hours in one pay period, and they got paid twice a month; the ideal annual salary of an individual making $23 per hour would be $44,160.

Appendices
Summary of Data Collected

N=50

Question #1
Variable Name
Codes
Answer By Code
1
If Minimum Wage $15?
Housing=0
Auto Purchases/Repairs=1
Transportation=2
Clothes=3
Food=4
Movies=5
Restaurants=6
Credit Card Debt=7
New Purchases for Home/Miscellaneous=8
Vacation/Travel=9
Tapes/CDs=10
Sport Activities=11
Books/Magazines=12
Self-Care=13
Childcare=14
Education=15
Savings=16
Healthcare=17
Utility Bills=18
0=35
1=16
2=30
3=16
4=40
5=7
6=5
7=24
8=6
9=10
10=1
11=3
12=2
13=14
14=10
15=12
16=12
17=19
18=40
2
If Minimum Wage was $23?
Housing=0
Auto Purchases/Repairs=1
Transportation=2
Clothes=3
Food=4
Movies=5
Restaurants=6
Credit Card Debt=7
New Purchases for Home/Miscellaneous=8
Vacation/Travel=9
Tapes/CDs=10
Sport Activities=11
Books/Magazines=12
Self-Care=13
Childcare=14
Education=15
Savings=16
Healthcare=17
Utility Bills=18
0=42
1=25
2=25
3=33
4=39
5=18
6=31
7=29
8=20
9=27
10=6
11=14
12=4
13=27
14=16
15=23
16=45
17=33
18=35


3
Ages
18-27=0
28-37=1
38-47=2
48-57=3
58-67=4


0=30
1=16
2=3
3=0
4=1
4
Gender
Female=0
Male=1
0=28
1=22
5
Race/Ethnicity
White=0
African American=1
Asian=2
Hispanic/Latino=3
Prefer Not to Answer=4
0=18
1=8
2=7
3=13
4=4


6
Family/Dependents
Yes=0
No=1
0=19
1=31
7
Education
High School=0
No Diploma=1
Some College=2
Associates=3
Bachelors=4
0=12
1=3
2=20
3=7
4=8
8
Occupation
Retail=0
Food=1
Hospitality=2
Self-employed Service=3
Banker=4
Pharmacist=5
Administration=6
0=21
1=10
2=4
3=5
4=2
5=2
6=6
9
Do You Get Paid Minimum Wage?
Yes=0
No=1
0=35
1=15
10
How Many Jobs?
1=0
2=1
Multiple=2
0=40
1=9
2=1
11
Part-time/Full-time?
Part-time=0
Full-time=1
0=21
1=29
12
If your wage was raised to $15/hour, how would you spend your money?
Spend time with Family=0
Hobbies=1
Bills=2
N/A=3
0=1
1=1
2=15
3=33
13
If your wage was raised to $23/hour, how would you spend that money?


Spend on Family=0
Bills=1
Debt=2
Vacation/Entertainment=3
Helping Others=4
N/A=5
0=7
1=9
2=10
3=13
4=1
5=10

Projected Distribution of Increased Expenditures Per Month ($3,680)- $23 an hour Minimum Wage
Category Average per person/% Rate Per 1000 Annualized per 1000
Housing $437.92 11.9% $437,920 $5,255,040
Auto Purchases $500.48 13.6% $500,480 $6,005,760
Auto Repairs $250.24 6.8% $250,240 $3,002,880
Clothes $334.88 9.1% $334,880 $4,018,560
Food $228.16 6.2% $228,160 $2,737,920
Movies $110.4 3.0% $110,400 $1,323,800
Videos $29.44 0 .8% $29,440 $353,280
Restaurants $184 5.0% $184,000 $2,208,000
Credit Card Debt $294.4 8.0% $294,400 $3,532,800
Home & misc. $334.88 9.1% $334,880 $4,018,560
Vacations/travel $110.4 3.0% $110,400 $1,324,800
Tapes and CDs $84.64 2.3% $84,640 $1,015,680
Sports Activities $84.64 2.3% $84,640 $1,015,680
Books/ Magazine $22.08 0.6% $22,080 $264,960
Schools/Childcare $128.8 3.5% $128,800 $1,545,600
Savings $423.2 11.5% $423,200 $5,078,400
Totals $3,926.74


Projected Distribution of Increased Expenditures Per Month ($2,400)- $15 an hour Minimum

Category Average per person/% Rate Per 1000 Annualized per 1000

Housing $285.6 11.9% $285,600 $3,427,200

Auto Purchases $326.4 13.6% $326,400 $3,916,800

Auto Repairs $163.2 6.8% $163,200 $1,958,400

Clothes $218.4 9.1% $218,400 $2,620,800

Food $148.8 6.2% $148,800 $1,785,600

Movies $72 3.0% $72,000 $864,000


Videos $19.2 0.8% $19,200 $230,400

Restaurants $120 5.0% $120,000 $1,440,000

Credit Card Debt $192 8.0% $192,000 $2,304,000

Home & misc. $218.4 9.1% $218,400 $2,620,800

Vacations/travel $72 3.0% $72,000 $864,000


Tapes and CDs $55.2 2.3% $55,200 $662,400

Sports Activities $55.2 2.3% $55,200 $662,400


Books/ Magazines $14.4 0.6% $14,400 $172,800

Schools/Childcare $84 3.5% $84,000 $1,008.000

Savings $276 11.5% $276,000 $3,312,000

Totals $94,928.64


Once all 50 surveys were conducted by the members of the group, all the data was then collected and coded according the the number of responses received for each question. After coming to the conclusion that if the minimum wage in Sonoma county was raised to $23, individuals whom worked one full time job (40 hours per week) would (before taxes) make $3,680 per month. Annual income will be about $44,160, calculations were then conducted based on how much income is used per each living need listed in the survey. We conclude that on average an individual would need approximately $3,926.74. Making the $23 income increase only $246.74 shy of the approximate monthly income needed.

We are 70% confident in the data estimating that there are 37,000 minimum wage workers in Santa Rosa that would be affected by the increase in minimum wage. Based on our sample if minimum wage was raised to $15 per hour out of 50 people, we can estimate that 70% of people in Sonoma County would spend their money towards housing, 32% would spend their money towards Auto Purchases and Repairs, 60% would spend the income increase toward Transportation, 32% would spend the income increase toward Clothes, 80% would spend the income increase toward food, 14% would spend the income increase towards movies, 10% would spend the income increase towards restaurants, 48% would spend the income increase toward credit card debit, 16% would spend the income increase toward new purchases for home and miscellaneous items, 20% would spend the income increase toward Vacations, 2% would spend the income increase towards tapes or CDs, 6% would spend the income increase toward sport activities, 4% would spend the income increase toward books and/or magazines, 28% would spend the income increase toward self care, 20% would spend the income increase toward child care, 24% would spend the income increase toward education and savings, 38% would spend the income increase toward healthcare, and 80% would spend the income increase toward utility bills.

Based on our sample if minimum wage was raised to $23 per hour out of 50 people, we can estimate that 84% of people in Sonoma County would spend their money towards housing, 50% would spend their money towards Auto Purchases and Repairs, 50% would spend the income increase toward Transportation, 66% would spend the income increase toward Clothes, 78% would spend the income increase toward food, 36% would spend the income increase towards movies, 63% would spend the income increase towards restaurants, 58% would spend the income increase toward credit card debit, 40% would spend the income increase toward new purchases for home and miscellaneous items, 54% would spend the income increase toward Vacations, 12% would spend the income increase toward tapes or CDs, 28% would spend the income increase toward sport activities, 8% would spend the income increase toward books and/or magazines, 54% would spend the income increase toward self care, 32% would spend the income increase toward child care, 32% would spend the income increase toward education, 90% would spend the income increase toward savings, 66% would spend the income increase toward healthcare, and 70% would spend the income increase toward utility bills.

Conclusion

In the past few decades, the topic of a base-level minimum wage has been debated over by economists on whether it would be beneficial for societies and cause businesses to flourish. After conducting research on the benefits of minimum wage, the results were highly cognate for Sonoma County and made it clear that there needs to be a rapid change in order for this county to be able to cope with the repercussions of inflation. As previously stated within our research, the living wage for Sonoma County is $23. From our findings, we see that most participants make under minimum wage, or a little above the $15 ideal.

The Sonoma State Investigative research team conducted a study on the effect of raising the current minimum wage from $11.00 to $15.00 an hour. In order to collect accurate data, the team randomly distributed surveys comparing how consumers would spend their money if the minimum wage was $15.00 versus the living wage of $23.00. Results found that most respondents would spend their income on bills, food, gas and rent if the minimum wage was raised to $15.00 per hour. As Sonoma County’s cost of living remains at an all time high, these results show that residents would benefit by being able to meet this extensive financial demand.

Additionally, results found that an increase in minimum wage to $23.00 an hour, would create new avenues for families to open savings accounts, go on vacations, buy new cars, and even put money back into the local economy by spending income in housing, auto, food industries. For example, when looking at the data collected we see a 14% increase on housing spending, an 18% increase in auto and auto repair spending, 22% increase towards movies, and a 53% increase on dining out when the minimum wage and living wage meet at $23 an hour. In turn, this financial spike in income would create secure financial spaces for families which will benefit an overall quality of life, and further the local economy.

According to the UC Berkeley Data Labor Center analysis, 37,062 residents in the City of Santa Rosa will be impacted by wage floor increase that is expected by 2023. Furthermore, 70% of research respondents disclosed they earn less than minimum wage, thus adding more legitimacy to the argument that increasing wage floor to $15 will be beneficial to the majority of employees that reside in Sonoma County.

Santa Rosa is a city that represents the general population of northern wine country that exhibits a majority of what is considered to be the diminishing middle-class. In order for the citizens to flourish in coherence with the surrounding area growth, there must be the reality of being able to maintain a minimum wage that is in alignment with the living wage. Across Sonoma County city council members have debated on whether the swift increase would be beneficial. The current status of the council's decision is a majority for the push towards $15 before 2022. Although, it has been stated more research is required. As a result from the Sonoma State Investigative Research team, the data proves it would be beneficial for all parties, businesses and the community alike.



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