The landscape is not as bleak as it might seem in the shadow of COVID-19. House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke has just given low-wage workers reason to hope. She is reported to have said recently when asked about the state budget:
“Our priority right now is to get a handle on making sure that basic needs for our citizens are taken care of.”
What welcome news to low-wage workers who are so often short-changed as they try to be seen and heard above the din of lobbyists who wield much more influence on behalf of corporate interests. When did we last give the basic needs of workers “priority”?
The COVID-19 crisis is surely driving home the lesson that meeting the basic needs of workers serves all of our interests. Have we ever been more grateful that the ships and trucks are loaded and unloaded? That shelves are stocked? That our first responders are on the job? That medical, administrative and janitorial staff at every level of every medical facility are doing all they can to respond to our needs?
While most of us stay at home to tame the spread of the virus, many of our friends and neighbors put themselves at considerable risk of contracting the virus as they work to make sure life continues with as much normalcy as possible in these very abnormal times.
Looking back: Hotel workers take to the streets to say “One Job Should Be Enough.” It’s past time to ensure a living wage.
One of the peculiar abnormalities that we have been content to live with for too long is the knowledge that thousands of low-wage workers in this punishingly expensive state work more than a full day, often at more than one job, and still cannot pay for their most basic needs.
We have become accustomed to the fallout from not paying people who work a full day a living wage. We have watched our sidewalks and parks become the sites for encampments of those who have literally stopped being able to pay for a roof over their heads and food on the table. Yes, some are mentally ill and some are addicted. But the simple truth from the state’s own research tells us that no one can survive — just survive — on $10.10 an hour. Not even if they are working two jobs.
Both the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) and the Aloha United Way ALICE report make it very clear that nearly half the state lives in, or near, poverty. They cannot make ends meet. To survive, a single person needs to be paid a minimum of $17 an hour.
To expect them to manage somehow without a living wage is magical thinking.
It’s more magical thinking to imagine that if the hourly wage goes up to $13 an hour by 2024, our workers will manage. Somehow our low-income workers will do what none of us can: make that $10.10 or even $13 an hour pay for rent and groceries and the essentials of living?
The recess has given the Legislature the benefit of stepping back and surveying the suffering exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. It should see what every one of us sees: our indebtedness to the least among us. It isn’t pious to insist on a living wage; it is pragmatic.
Young Progressives Demanding Action (YPDA) – organizing for a more civically engaged electorate.
A coalition of nonprofits has identified priorities to make sure that federal funds coming our way are used to ensure that the “basic needs of our citizens are taken care of.”
The nonprofits call for funding for emergency food systems like food banks and senior/child meals and aid to those at risk of losing their housing.
They also call for a stronger moratorium on evictions and foreclosures so as to keep more people from becoming houseless.
The legislative recess should not paralyze us. Instead, let’s reaffirm our commitment to putting people first as we frame public policy.
Watching from the gallery: Will public policies represent the public interest?
This OpEd was first published in the Honolulu Star Advertiser, April 13, 2020. Once again in this pandemic, nonprofits are doing courageous work on shoestring budgets, filling the potholes in the landscape of public services caused by the failure of elected officials to put the needs of the community before corporate interests. COVID19 is making ever clearer the human suffering writ large on our sidewalks. People are struggling to feed their families on reduced paychecks or minus the income from the so-called gig economy that is not allowing gigs–or making the essential services they provide really hazardous for those who perform them. As a businesswoman who has managed small businesses, I have known the stress of meeting payroll and rent every month. That experience has only reinforced the belief that while businesses need to be profitable, we also have a moral obligation to make sure that those on the lower rungs of the payroll are paid fairly, and can afford basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, medical attention. When even as conservative a body as the Business Roundtable, under Jamie Dimon, joined by dozens of business leaders, recognizes that businesses needs to honor its moral compact with employees, Hawaii legislators have to help voters understand why they do not exert themselves more to serve the voters who elected them, not special moneyed interests. COVID19 is shedding a very clear light on the quality of leadership we have in Hawaii.
Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation
This statement from the national Business Roundtable was released on Aug 19, 2019 and has been signed by close to 200 hundred business leaders. Will Hawaii’s business leaders and lawmakers lend their name to a similar statement of commitment?