The day violence drops drastically in Oakland will be the day when our youth and adults are put to work and paid well. Families are struggling to pay bills, which in turn pushes youth and adults out to the streets, either because they are homeless or trying to make ends meet to pay rent in the crappy apartment they call home.

Youth are in the streets because they can’t find a job and they have nothing better to do with their time. “These youth that are being killed are my family and close friends, I’m wondering, am I next?” said Breonna Williams (16) from Oakland. Health outcomes for young people in Oakland is directly related to the vast economic inequity in our city. Youth as well as adults can’t live a decent life because they don’t make enough to do so.

Currently the minimum wage in California is $8.00 an hour. $8.00 is not enough for a meal from Burger King, let alone a good meal for the deserving, hard-working Oakland citizens. Many Oaklanders stand on their feet for hours on end taking orders and making meals only to go home and continue to struggle.

“If you work hard and work full-time you should not be living in poverty” said President Obama at the signing ceremony for his executive order that would raise the federal minimum wage for contract workers from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. However, that’s just contract work. What about the rest of us?

Here in our city, the Lift Up Oakland! Coalition is fighting to raise the city-wide minimum wage to $12.25 an hour, as well as provide all workers with paid sick days. Parents commonly to go to work with the flu because not doing so means the rent does not get paid. No one should have to choose between a paycheck and our health!

A common argument is that struggling small businesses would have to shut down if they are forced to pay their employees more and provide paid sick days. However, the reality is that folks making minimum wage barely have enough to pay bills, so the amount of money they have to shop locally is little to none.

We were interested in finding out if people would spend more if they earned more, so we took to the streets and conducted a small poll. We asked folks, “If you earned more money at your job and had a couple extra hundred to spend would you shop more?” 17 out of 20 people answered “Yes.” Those who answered “No” said they would use the money to catch up on bills they have piled up.

Raising the minimum wage will pump millions into our local economy to build local businesses, create jobs, and generate tax revenue for schools and public safety.

Similarly, if Oaklanders were paid what they deserve and did more to support one another, youth violence in general would drop. Urban violence is a public health issue, and Dr. Stephen Bezruchka, who teaches at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health, argues that the best way to improve health outcomes is to address economic and social inequity.

In an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, Dr. Bezruchka explains:

“Americans think that it’s health care that produces health, when there really is very little evidence for that. What turns out to be really important is the nature of caring and sharing in society. And the best factor that really impacts that is the degree of inequality. Where societies are more unequal, people don’t look out for one another, they look out for themselves. Where societies are more equal — and economic equality is the thing that is most important in this — people look after each other, society looks after each other, and pretty much everyone does better.”

If young people had more well-paid job opportunities and more programs that promoted peace, our city would be a better place. Youth continue to be falsely blamed for the violence in our city and enough is enough. The problem is not our youth, it’s that our youth have no viable alternatives!

For more information regarding the Lift Up Oakland! Coalition and the campaign to raise Oakland’s minimum wage, please visit http://liftupoakland.org/.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. 
For guidelines, see oaklandlocal.com/guidelines. For more information on posting to Community Voices, see The word on Oakland Local’s Community Voices posts.

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