Individuals working for a living should not have to raise a family in poverty. This simple yet profound principle has been a mantra for the Ventura County Living Wage Coalition and has caught fire throughout the county.
The coalition is a grass-roots organization of individuals and 41 groups with a demonstrated commitment to working in their community on quality-of-life issues such as economic development, planned and managed growth, affordable housing, education, youth and family services, voter registration and education and worker safety and empowerment.
Community and religious leaders representing a cross-section of the county have endorsed the living wage. The coalition has persevered throughout a long and comprehensive process of education and outreach, advocacy and constituency building and now looks forward to adoption by the Board of Supervisors of a Ventura County living wage ordinance.
This would be the first major step in what has become a living wage movement in the county.
Why has the coalition accomplished this goal? It is undeniably the right and just thing in an economic and public policy context.
First, our limited public dollars should not subsidize poverty-wage work. When contract employers are allowed to pay their workers less than a living wage, taxpayers end up paying twice: the initial contract amount and then for the food stamps, emergency medical, housing and other social services low-wage workers may require to support themselves and their families.
It is the duty and responsibility of government to implement public policies to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community. Government fulfills this responsibility by providing medical and health-related services, police and fire protection, and by maintaining streets and roadways.
Some would argue that government's role ends here. But government can and has done much more for the common good. Social Security and Medicare, for example, have gone a long way toward eradicating poverty among the elderly and bringing peace of mind to generations of Americans. The GI Bill has helped millions of Americans get the education they need to build a better future for themselves and their families. The federal government's nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children, the WIC program, has given a healthy start to millions.
The living wage ordinance is a quality-of-life issue. Ventura County enjoys many fine attributes that add up to a desirable quality of life. This is the result of the implementation of public policies for the common good. However, promoting the common good is not compatible with tolerating economic injustice.
The living wage ordinance would enhance the quality of life of the working poor as well as of the community at large. Although a living wage ordinance is not the single solution for the working poor, it can have the most immediate and direct effect.
The Board of Supervisors and local city councils should have the courage to champion the cause of ensuring a living wage for our honest, hard-working neighbors.
In the words of Pope John Paul II, "Do not recoil before the reforms that are necessary to create the conditions needed by the disadvantaged if they are to have a fresh chance in the hard struggle of life."