This election year, one of the hot button issues is the minimum wage. The “Fight for Fifteen,” as it is called, began in New York City on November 29, 2012, when over 100 hundred fast food workers walked off their jobs, going out on strike, for a $15 hourly wage and union rights. Since then, the “Fight for Fifteen” has become a national initiative, a plank in the Democratic Party Platform, and an issue Republicans would like to see handled on the state and local level. Only a handful of cities have already put in place significant wage increases.
This fall, “Getting Ahead,” a one-hour documentary from Tavis Smiley and WNET reports on the real consequences of the “Fight for Fifteen” for both wage earners and small business owners in California, the first state to raise the minimum wage. The documentary takes a discerning look at how increasing the minimum wage is playing out in four Northern California cities – San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville – where pay increases have been in place for at least two years, pre-dating the 2016 statewide mandated minimum wage increases.
To understand what it means for workers trying to make a livable wage and for business owners trying to make payroll, “Getting Ahead” weaves real-life stories with observations by two economic experts – Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center and Christopher Thornberg, PhD, founder of Beacon Economics – who look at the same set of circumstances but come to very different conclusions.
Tavis Smiley meets small business owners like Danny Huang, in Oakland’s Chinatown, who is concerned that he cannot raise his prices enough to keep pace with paying mandated increases in wages. He profiles low-wage earners like Maria Martinez and Jamie Gaucin, trying to raise three children on minimum wage jobs, but who are forced to seek public assistance to make ends meet. “Getting Ahead” demonstrates that there’s no single answer in the debate over the minimum wage.
As documentary reveals, there are differences of opinion about how raising the minimum wage will impact local businesses and employees. “What we also heard from those we talked with,” says Smiley in the documentary, “is that if there is a way for those in poverty to chase the dream in today’s rapidly changing economy, it won’t come from raising the minimum wage alone. The answer, anti-poverty advocates stress, is that we also need more affordable housing and job training for this new kind of economy.”