Getting Ahead, a one hour documentary from Tavis Smiley and WNET, takes a granular look at how increasing the minimum wage is playing out in four Northern California cities where pay increases have been in place for at least two years’, pre-dating the June, 2016 state-wide mandated minimum wage increases. Getting Ahead focuses primarily on small business owners and hour wage earners, putting a human face on statistics.
While the “Fight For Fifteen” has become a national initiative and a plank in the Democratic Party Platform, only a handful of cities have already put in place significant increases, including the four very different cities profiled in Getting Ahead – San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville. Because of the diversity of those cities and the fact that California is often at the vanguard of social change, what’s taking place in that state may very well be a harbinger of what other communities around the country will experience.
Getting Ahead focuses on the reality being faced by both small business owners and employees. Small business owners such as Sal Bednarz, owner of Actual Café, who is an outspoken supporter of increasing the minimum wage but now worries that his very slim profit margin may not be sustainable; Asiya Jabaar, director of a small state accredited day care center, who is reducing her full time staff to one part-time worker and is concerned that as a teacher she is being priced out of keeping her day care center open; Oakland’s Chinatown merchants who express concern that they cannot raise their prices to keep pace with paying mandated salary increases; Nina Cooper of Nina Cooper Designs who is convinced that a possible $19 an hour minimum wage in Berkeley will destroy small businesses; and Sam Mogannan, who owns Bi-Rite Markets and Catering and has over 300 employees who knows that he can only raise his prices so high before he looses customers.
On the other side of the equation, Jamie Gauçon and Maria Martinez are trying to raise their 3 children on minimum wage jobs and are forced to turn to public assistance to make ends meet; Eunice Medina, who worked at Jabaar’s Day Care Center and had to take a different job when her hours were cut; Marcelino Manzares who is a line cook at Actual Café and says the increases, while welcome, are not enough to off-set rising rents in Oakland; Benjamin Watterson who works at Bi-Rite Market and is now struggling to stay in the middle class while his wife is temporarily unemployed; Ada Olmedo, a cashier at Bi-Rite who says the increases are making a positive difference in her family’s life, and Shonda Roberts, who has spent her adult life working in fast food restaurants, and is a champion of the minimum wage increases that are benefitting her bottom line.
Getting Ahead also looks at Emeryville, which currently has the highest minimum wage in the country — $14.86 and how that has positively impacted minimum wager earners.
Getting Ahead weaves these and other real life stories with observations by two economic experts who look at the same set of circumstances but come to very different conclusions – Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center and Christopher Thornberg, PhD, founder of Beacon Economics.
Getting Ahead is presented by Tavis Smiley and was written and directed by Jacoba Atlas with whom he has collaborated for six previous PBS documentaries.