Workers need $17 minimum wage
Originally published in the Star-Advertiser, January 2, 2019
Cleota G. Brown
Retired business leader
Every day we watch as our country slides further and further away from the values we hold so dear, i.e., love, hope, charity and equal opportunity for all. I could never imagine living in a country where our government officials, corporate America and its business leaders are so filled with greed that they can’t see the need to give the average worker their dignity by withholding their right to a living wage.
I won’t cite all the rational statistics to prove the need for a living wage of $17 for Hawaii’s workforce. Instead my argument is all about the increasing number of homeless families we see on our streets, many are addicted due to mental illness with little chance for recovery, the number of our youth ending up in gangs or stuck in drug court, or 56 percent of our keiki qualifying for the CEP (Community Eligibility Provision) free lunch program.
How can our people rise above these conditions as basics to survive increase every day? Parents work multiple jobs to house and feed their families, more and more multigenerational families are forced to live in a single home to make ends meet. Is it any surprise anger and hostility, anxiety and depression are leading indicators for the mental health crisis in Hawaii?
What has happened to the heart and soul of this great state?
What has happened to the compassion and empathy of our business leaders?
Where do you think the safety and well-being of our communities are headed?
I know the situation involves more than money, but for those who struggle to earn enough income to cover the basics for survival there is little hope and love in their hearts and they definitely aren’t benefiting from equal opportunity.
Since retiring from corporate America, I spend much of my time supporting the nonprofit sector. This puts me in touch with needy families who struggle to cover the basics while trying to cover health care costs for family members who suffer from serious illness, parents forced to work multiple jobs, latch key children who rarely see their parents. Aunties, grandparents or neighbors care for the luckier children, but many are on their own from the end of the school day till they return to school in the morning.
I recently was checking out at Times supermarket behind a young mother with two little girls. The mother was anxiously trying to figure out the cost of her groceries while sending food items from her cart for back to the shelf. I could see how stressful the family felt. I struggled to determine if I should offer help. Finally when one child started to cry, I reached into my purse and took out $100 and quietly put it in the mother’s hand. She refused it with tears in her eyes but then agreed to take it and paid for her groceries. When I finished checking out, she was waiting for me outside the door to give me the change back. I insisted she keep the change and buy her girls a treat. She indicated she works for a hotel and the strike has put them seriously behind financially. We hugged, through tears and prayers. My heart breaks for these families.
Do the right thing, Hawaii, and let’s start down the path to restore love, hope, charity and equal opportunity for all of Hawaii’s people. Providing a $17 minimum living wage will help to restore the dignity for those who want to work hard and take care of their own.