Honest Pay

Strolling down the Santa Monica pier on a sunny afternoon seems like the picture-perfect American experience. Children hold ice cream cones in one hand and pull parents toward the roller coaster with the other; older couples meander, arm in arm, toward the view of a Western sunset; teen-age surfers challenge the waves in the ocean below. Framing the pier and beaches are a string of posh hotels, restaurants, and retail stores, ready to cater to every whim of tourists who flock to this Southern California town. It’s a pleasantly chaotic scene, full of sight and sound and prosperous people having fun.

However, for many of the people working in the tourist industry, such prosperity is beyond their reach—not because of a lack of effort, but because of their low wages. Many hotels, which charge up to $450 a night per room, barely pay their workers $5.75 an hour. At this rate, a person working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, still brings home an income of only $11,960 a year—a full $4,500 below the federal poverty line for a family of four.

This discrepancy between work done and income earned is the focus of Santa Monica’s "Living Wage Campaign." The campaign seeks to raise the minimum wage to $10.69 an hour plus benefits, and it would apply to the "coastal zone," a mile-wide band of businesses along the beachfront.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2000
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