David Shipler's The Working Poor: Invisible in America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf 2004) provides incredible insight into the lives of low-income working people in the United States today. Shipler's book and his research are the most important on the subject in the past 40 years. Central Dallas Ministries enjoyed having him as our guest speaker at our annual Urban Ministries Prayer Event two years ago.
Listen to Shipler's jarring testimony:
"Most of the people I write about in this book do not have the luxury of rage. They are caught in exhausting struggles. Their wages do not lift them far enough from poverty to improve their lives, and their lives, in turn hold them back. The term by which they are usually described, 'working poor,' should be an oxymoron. Nobody who works hard should be poor in America (p. ix).
"Workers at the edge of poverty are essential to America's prosperity, but their well-being is not treated as an integral part of the whole. Instead, the forgotten wage a daily struggle to keep themselves from falling over the cliff. It is time to be ashamed" (p. 300).
Shipler would be proud of the Los Angeles City Council.
The legislative body approved a living wage ordinance for the 3,500 hotel workers employed in the Gateway Improvement District near L. A. International Airport. Eleven of the 14- member City Council voted recently to extend the city's 1997 living wage law to 3,500 workers in the LAX hospitality industry.
The groundbreaking vote makes Los Angeles the largest city in the country to require employers that don't do business directly with the city to pay their workers a living wage.
This extension of the living wage ordinance will affect 13 hotels on Century Boulevard. The law will increase wages for workers to $9.39 per hour with health benefits and $10.64 per hour without health benefits.
In addition, the council passed a worker retention ordinance that insures hotel employees will be able to keep their jobs 90 days after a hotel changes ownership. City lawmakers also enacted rules requiring hotels to give service charges imposed on banquet guests to servers.
The Los Angeles Times reported that current average earnings for Century Boulevard hotel workers is 20% lower than those in downtown hotels and 22 percent lower than in East San Fernando Valley and Burbank hotels. Low wages at Century Boulevard hotels contribute to poverty in the nearby communities of Lennox, Inglewood and Hawthorne, where a large number of these workers live.
Local news media report that in the last two years occupancy rates at Century Boulevard hotels has increased 16 percent -- the highest in L.A. County. The hotels are doing very well.
"Today's historic vote is a win-win for everyone," said Councilman Bill Rosendahl. "The living wage for the hotel workers is a matter of social justice, as well as a matter of good business sense. Treating workers fairly and improving working conditions will benefit hotels and drive economic activity along Century Boulevard. Today's vote will help all boats rise together."
I agree with the Councilman. And, I applaud the hard work of Council member Janice Hahn, one of the driving forces behind the new regulations.
I'm not sure who it was who first said it, but I agree completely with the familiar line, "The very best program of social uplift possible is a job that pays a living wage!"
Like I said, David Shipler should be very pleased.