Setting Job Standards for a New Economy

October 2014

Setting Job Standards for a New Economy

An Innovative Living Wage for Silicon Valley

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The Living Wage movement is based on the simple principle that taxpayer dollars should not be used to create poverty-level jobs.

Over 140 cities, counties and other local entities have enacted living wage policies, each tailored to the needs of their own community and workforce. From Baltimore in 1994 to Milwaukee County in 2014, living wage policies have exhibited 20 years of success in increasing economic opportunity through responsible use of public funds.

In Silicon Valley, the need for more living wage jobs has never been clearer. Even as the region’s economy is growing and profits are soaring, access to middle-wage, family-supporting jobs is shrinking, creating an “hourglass economy” that leaves massive numbers of workers trapped at the bottom in low wage, dead end, service occupations. 28% of all jobs in the county do not pay a living wage, and 35% of all working households have incomes below the basic self-sufficiency standard.

There is no single silver bullet solution to this problem of the disappearing middle class — it will require every actor in Silicon Valley pitching in to bend the economy’s arc away from expanding inequality towards inclusion and opportunity.

In this moment, the County of Santa Clara has the opportunity to lead by enacting the nation’s first comprehensive living wage.

This means not just setting a wage floor, but incorporating provisions that promote healthy workplaces; expand access to economic opportunity; protect workers from discrimination, intimidation or retaliation; and address the growing problem of insecure, temporary and contingent work, in which constantly changing work hours and schedules leave workers and families struggling to predict household income week to week, hold a second job to pay the bills, provide stable care for their children, or pursue further education.

A number of jurisdictions have moved forward on each of these issues, but in a piecemeal manner. Santa Clara County can build on their success by enacting a streamlined ordinance that integrates these critical workforce protections in a unified framework.

The County’s spending affects tens of thousands of jobs and lives. It is Silicon Valley’s second largest employer of local workers, with over 16,000 employees. But its economic footprint extends well beyond its own workforce. In a model similar to that used by many of the region’s leading technology companies, the County subcontracts a considerable portion of its business to other entities — a total of approximately $2.5 billion in annual contracting.

By enacting a comprehensive living wage, the County can create a model for responsible con-tracting. With state and local government contracts in the U.S. estimated to total roughly $1.5 trillion annually, the potential impacts of such a model are enormous. At the same time, the County’s leadership can set an example for the private sector.

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