Keep the Change Going: Addressing Income Inequality in Silicon Valley

Income inequality is one of the biggest problems in Silicon Valley. We have at least 48 billionaires in the Bay Area alone. Yet, we also have people who struggle to survive working low wage jobs.

Even the recent increase in the minimum wage in San Jose is not enough to live in an area where housing prices have soared, transportation costs continue to increase and most people have a negative net worth. Waiting for dysfunctional government to address these problems or getting large net worth corporations to pay their workers a living wage is not in our foreseeable future.

But as individuals, we can make a difference. That’s why we need a “Keep the Change Going” program. Instead of keeping the change on your next retail or fast food purchase, round-up the amount to whole dollars and tell the server or sales person to keep the change for themselves. These places should allow tips for workers, similar to the high-end levels of industry.

It’s a small amount for many of us, but it could collectively make a big difference in the individual lives of low-wage workers.

This is not a substitute for government action or corporate responsibility. But it is a way to create positive economic growth for those who need it most in Silicon Valley. Currently, corporations are sitting on trillions of unused dollars. Money is a tool that can be used to benefit people, but like any tool, if it sits on the shelf it is unproductive.

We need as a society to recommit to the values that matter. Robert Kennedy’s birthday was Nov. 20 and his words resonate today when it comes to our economy.

“Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product ... if we should judge America by that, counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and television programs, which glorify violence …

“Yet the gross national product does not allow for health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit or our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

Let us, here and now, recommit ourselves to the real values that built this country. This is an individual, not a government effort. It is all volunteer—and if you cannot afford to participate, keep your money.

Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.

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