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The ABCs of Measure JJ: Why Educators Support the Living Wage

By Dr. Patrick Nichelson and Maria Leon-Vazquez

Last week, dozens of local education officials, teachers, professors and youth leaders joined with us in endorsing Measure JJ. While we have been shaped by different experiences, we share a deep conviction that poverty wages are incompatible with the goal of quality education.

As educators, we see firsthand the relationship between economic and educational opportunity. Here's how Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg, the new chair of the Assembly Education Committee, explains the nexus between wages and education:

"If you want to raise the achievement level of children in California you have to raise the income levels. Family income is the number one indicator of educational success - not race, location, or even language."

Ms. Goldberg speaks with some authority on this subject. A former teacher, she spent many years as a school board member, then as a city councilmember led the campaign to pass a living wage law in Los Angeles. That law helped spawn a national movement that has resulted in the passage of 85 living wage ordinances.

Community leaders like Ms. Goldberg have seen living wage laws yield tangible benefits for students, parents and educators. In many cases, it's as simple as parents being able to work fewer hours or drop a second job, leaving more time to spend with their children. Any teacher will tell you that parental supervision and guidance are critical to the educational success of children.

A living wage can also improve educational opportunity by enabling working families to leave impoverished neighborhoods. While every child should have access to quality schools, the reality is that poor neighborhoods typically are saddled with substandard educational facilities, putting children at a disadvantage from an early age.

And what of higher education? So often the first wish expressed by low-income workers is that their kids will go to college one day. A living wage not only allows parents to put away a little money for the future, but also can set a family on a more stable path so that kids stay in school and have an opportunity to pursue higher learning.

The educational benefits of a living wage are not limited to kids. Poverty wages trap adults in a vicious cycle of long hours and second or third jobs that make it extremely difficult to better one's skills. With a living wage, hard-working people have a chance to obtain the training and education necessary to break out of a dead-end career trajectory.

Sometimes a living wage provides even more basic benefits: enough money so that families don't have to choose between adequate food, shelter and health care. Tragically, too many face precisely this choice. In Los Angeles County, a staggering 43 percent of families are poor. What's even more astounding is that the vast majority of these families include one or more adults who work full time.

When children don't have enough to eat, or can't go to the doctor, or have low-quality day care, their education suffers. It's a pernicious cycle of deprivation that as a society we must strive to eradicate.

Measure JJ offers our community an opportunity to take an important step in that direction. The living wage economic impact study commissioned by the city found that Measure JJ will substantially improve the living standards of 2,000 working people without imposing an undue burden on business. This study was reviewed and affirmed by Harvard University Professor Richard Freeman, one of the leading labor economists in the world, and has been endorsed by 120 economists around the country.

We note with sadness that a narrow minority of business interests not only oppose Measure JJ, but have attempted to sway voters with claims that the living wage law will actually hurt young people and endanger schools and other educational facilities. These claims have no basis in fact, merely reflecting the financial self-interest of those who would deny workers a fair wage.

By ensuring a living wage for 2,000 hard-working men and women, Measure JJ offers the hope of a brighter future. We hope you will join us in voting yes on November 5.

Dr. Patrick Nichelson is Chair of the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees. Maria Leon-Vazquez is Vice President of the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District.

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