East Bay should raise minimum wage, be a model for state

Originally published on – by By Tony Thurmond

Tony Thurmond directs youth and truancy programs at Lincoln Child Center and is a former Richmond City council member and West Contra Costa School Board member. He’s currently running for California State Assembly, District 15, which includes Berkeley.

I am a person who escaped poverty with education and a minimum wage job.

In so many ways, I was lucky. My cousin and her husband, both campus police officers, raised me as their own son after my mother passed away from cancer when I was six years old. Through their love and guidance, I came to believe that, if I worked hard enough, anything was possible.

I put myself through college by working the night shift flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s for minimum wage. My first year, I worked from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., and then would get myself to chemistry class that same morning, tired, but determined to build a better life. The rest of the way, I worked in the restaurant industry for minimum wage and tips.

I was motivated because I knew then, just as I know now, how education can transform a life – including my own.

Many of my friends weren’t so lucky. Some never had the opportunity to earn a living wage. A few landed in jail or were caught up in street violence. And sadly, a few even ended up dead.

I was determined to find another way. But I also had a way to help myself by working. It wasn’t a great job flipping burgers, but it paid enough to help make ends meet.

You can’t say the same thing about the very same job today. The purchasing power of a minimum wage income peaked way back in 1968.

Just last week, the Richmond City Council – a body on which I proudly served – gave its initial approval to increase its minimum wage to $12.30 per hour by 2017. Final approval is expected next month.

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