THE BLOG

What Do the Pope and Seattle Have in Common?

06/12/2014 06:18 pm ET | Updated Aug 12, 2014

Sounds like the beginning of a great joke. But it's not.

What they have in common is the sense to realize that wealth -- in the true sense of wealth -- just doesn't trickle down. The Pope has said, " 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality," and Seattle simply has said "it shall be" to a $15.00 minimum wage, albeit over a number of years and with a variety of phase-in modes. Even Chicago's Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, after the impetus of an overwhelming advisory referendum, is turning the issue of raising Chicago's minimum wage over to a task force. Let's hope his force is up to the task.

As with coffee, Seattle is on the cutting edge of something big. That city wasn't willing to watch state and federal governments fumble around, while its most vulnerable workers faced wages divorced from the reality of life. And, when we talk of our most vulnerable workers, it is often just a euphemism for women in the workforce.

As President and CEO of Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW) I see firsthand how wages paid for entry-level jobs ripple through the lives of women and their families. As far as I'm concerned, raising the minimum wage is only a first, but necessary, step in leveling the economic playing field for women. (A more progressive tax rate would be a good second, but that's a different subject altogether.)

Although women account for about one half of the work force, working women are concentrated in industries paying some of the lowest wages and are woefully underrepresented in high-skill/high-paying positions. Women make up about 60 percent of minimum wage workers and almost 73 percent workers earning tips. And, it doesn't take an expensive study to know that as far as tipped workers fare, women are not overly represented as Maitre d's but are over-represented as waitresses in diners. According to the Government Accountability Office, nation-wide for every dollar a man makes, a woman takes home around 80 cents. And these statistics have real meaning for families. In 2010 over six million single mothers were the sole support for their households.

Many cry foul to raising the minimum wage as a recipe for destruction of economic growth and redistribution of wealth. I'll give you redistribution of wealth, but won't concede on destruction of growth. Common sense dictates that those at the bottom rung of the wage scale will be plowing their earned dollars right back into the economy. Plus, research has shown that this consumer-based spending has a multiplier effect in our economy. And, I'll trust the International Monetary Fund's Research Department when it says, "[b]e careful not to assume that there is a big trade-off between redistribution and growth."

Turning back to Mayor Emanuel's Task Force and the job ahead, I am truly hopeful that a higher minimum wage is in store for Chicago and its women. This hope springs from the fact that the Task Force includes two individuals representing long-time grantees of Chicago Foundation for Women, Maria Pesqueira, President and CEO of Mujeres Latinas en Acción and John Bouman, President of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. Along with more than 60 other CFW grantees, these organizations experience first-hand the trade-offs the average working mother in Chicago makes in order to make ends meet. She waters down baby formula, chooses between going to work or caring for her sick child, paying the heating bills or paying the rent. I think we can all agree that nobody, woman or man, should work a full week and be greeted come Friday even deeper in despair.