The minimum wage in Sonoma, and Sonoma County, needs to rise faster and considerably higher than it is on track to do. The California minimum wage is currently $10.50; $11.00 for employers of 26 or more. This will rise to between $11.00, and $12.00 for employers of 26+, in January 2019. By state law it will go to $15 by 2023. This is too little, too slowly.
The disparity between area wages and cost of living is striking. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a family of two adults in the Santa Rosa metro has annual costs requiring them to make either $35/hour an hour for a single earner, and or $17.50/hour each for two earners.
The Area Median Income (AMI) for Sonoma County is $68,000 for a family of two adults. Given the EPI calculation, almost all of the money earned by the average earner will go for annual expenses, leaving nothing in savings or reserves.
For AMI-level earners, the more money they earn, the more taxes they pay, and the less help toward Affordable Care Act health care help they get. In reaching median and higher income levels, extra income is quickly siphoned off. This is why all county earners on the AMI spectrum need a break on costs as well as higher wages wherever possible. And this study pre-dates the post-fire rise in county rent.
Post-fire county median rent is now between $1,954 and $2,600. This pushes annual market rate rental housing costs to between $23,500 and $31,000 per year, $10,000 more per year than the cost of the EPI wage calculations, taking county and city rental AMI housing costs to 50% of annual income.
Not only is housing more expensive; food, gasoline, and private health care all cost more in Sonoma County. In fact, according to Forbes and a 2018 RealtyTrac study, Sonoma County is among the top ten least affordable places to live in the country. The City of Sonoma is even less affordable than the county. Lower than AMI earners do not shop or buy gas in Sonoma because of the savings to be had elsewhere.
This circles back to the need to raise the minimum wage in Sonoma and the Bay Area, which is the second most expensive urban area in the US, after Manhattan and NYC.
The City of Sonoma planned to conduct a minimum wage study over three years ago, but never followed through. Various efforts are underway to immediately raise the minimum wage to $15/hour at a minimum; others believe that’s too little, too late, and advocate closer to $18 or $20/hour, plus yearly cost of living increases.
Area median income is barely adequate to survive here, and in post-fire Sonoma County, what was once middle class is now closer to poverty level. We continue to support an immediate increase in the minimum wage, whether that’s $15/hour, $18/hour or $20; frankly, the higher the better. Sonoma’s General Plan states that people who work here should be able to live and shop here. It’s long past time to make that aspiration a reality.