The past few years have been marked by successive crises—a raging pandemic, a planet on fire, and a Supreme Court bent on rescinding fundamental rights.
For many in our country, the American experiment is failing. But California has stood strong, thanks to the courage and action of progressive leaders who have pushed ambitious legislation to protect us.
As families across the nation braced for the end of free school lunch programs, California moved quickly to make free meals permanent for all public school students, regardless of their family's income.
On the heels of the Buffalo and Uvalde massacres, our elected leaders passed bold gun control laws to restrict access to weapons and create an avenue for private citizens to sue the industry.
Two days after the dangerous Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe V. Wade, our lawmakers agreed to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot this year that would enshrine the right to abortion in our state constitution.
It’s clear that we have the political will to make meaningful, material change in the lives of Californians.
Now it’s time to turn to our poverty crisis.
Working families in the Golden State are suffocating. Gas prices are at an all-time high, grocery bills are breaking the bank, and a single medical emergency is enough to send someone into a lifetime of debt.
Just last week, it was reported that consumer prices rose 8.5% in July. We do not have an economy that works for everyone when, for millions of workers, a trip to the grocery store costs as much as a week’s wage.
So we wrote the Living Wage Act—a common-sense initiative to steadily and predictably raise the minimum wage to $18 an hour by 2025 (with additional time for small businesses). It would boost the income of 5 million Californians and lift 3.5 million hardworking people out of poverty.
Support for it is overwhelming—recent surveys show two-thirds of voters would support raising the minimum wage.
Workers need relief now and we submitted more than one million signatures to get on the November ballot. Unfortunately we were blocked by a Trump-nominated judge.
But we're not going to let that stand in the way of getting workers the raise they deserve.
We're taking a new approach: working with our elected partners in the California state legislature to get the job done. After all, this is a wildly popular measure among voters.
We've done the hard work—our measure qualified for 2024. But this measure wasn't designed to help working people two years from now.
Headlines are focusing on new legislation passed in Washington, D.C. to invest in clean energy, lower drug prices, and reduce the debt. Those are all worthwhile goals but we can never forget that low-wage workers are struggling right now. Once again, it’s up to California to lead the way.
California has become a bulwark for meaningful progressive change in a country that seems hell-bent on going backward.
But our sterling reputation won't hold up if we stand idly by as working Californians skip meals and ration medication to keep the lights on.
We need action now. Let's show the rest of the nation that when it comes to ending poverty, we won't take no for an answer.
(Joe Sanberg is a progressive business leader and anti-poverty advocate. As a steward of the movement to pass the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income families in California, Joe founded CalEITC4Me, one of the state’s largest anti-poverty programs, which has put more than $10 billion back in the pockets of working families. He successfully led the charge to expand eligibility for the program to low-wage, undocumented workers, who had previously been excluded from the tax credit. This article was featured in Common Dreams.)