For this week’s Longreads Member Pick, we’re excited to share a story from Next City’s Forefront magazine, by journalist Nona Willis Aronowitz. Aronowitz looks at the story behind the minimum wage increase in San Jose, which jumped to $10 per hour from $8 per hour after the city’s residents voted for the increase last November—”the single largest minimum-wage jump in the nation’s history.” Aronowitz explains:
“A few months ago, I started to notice that journalists were totally obsessed with Silicon Valley’s income gap. In voyeuristic detail, they described oblivious 22-year-olds buying $5,000 bicycles and renting $3,000 studios and farming out the simplest tasks to worker bees with the click of an app. Meanwhile, the working class—the people on the other end of TaskRabbit and dry cleaning bills—were mostly painted in broad strokes as powerless casualties of this contemporary gold rush.
“When I heard that a few students at San Jose State, mostly working class women of color, had sparked a campaign to raise the minimum wage, I immediately realized that the $48 artisanal fried chicken of Silicon Valley had come home to roost. These kids were living in an exaggerated microcosm of what had pissed off Occupy Wall Street so much, and unlike that poor documentary filmmaker getting evicted in San Francisco, they weren’t impotent bystanders. They were fighting. This piece doesn’t tell a tale of a seamless victory; these activists were juggling kids, classes, campaigning, and their own minimum wage jobs, sometimes unsuccessfully. But their story is an important counterpoint to the implication that the widening of the wealth gap, happening everywhere, is simply inevitable.”
Illustration by Kjell Reigstad