Charles Dharapak/ap file photoIn his State of the Union address Tuesday

SF can emerge as a nationwide example of fighting inequality

There were two clear messages in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday: The nation must battle growing economic inequality, and the people should not sit back and wait for lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to do anything about it.

The partisan gridlock embroiling the Beltway political scene has made any reasonable discussion about economic inequality difficult at the nationwide level, though Obama signaled that it is important to him through an executive order of raising the minimum wage for federal contractors.

With a paralyzed federal government, it is time for cities, including San Francisco, to take a leading role in fighting inequality in America — a discussion that has started, but that needs a bigger boost.

Mayor Ed Lee has signaled a willingness to put before voters a measure that would, if passed, increase the minimum wage in The City beyond the current $10.74 per hour, which is already one of the highest in the nation. Lee has rightly acknowledged that the minimum wage here is high yet still not enough to live on.

For San Francisco to truly be a leader in fighting inequality, it will be important for all parties involved to weigh in, making sure that the proposed wage increase put before voters is a livable wage and not a token increase that will still leave workers struggling.

And as The City is talking about wages, there should be a discussion about closing the pay gap between women and men. Nationwide, women earn just 77 cents for every dollar men earn. In San Francisco, women are paid 84 cents for every dollar men earn. Every San Francisco agency, task force and business should double down on work toward heeding Obama’s call to end the gender inequality. “It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode,” Obama said during Tuesday’s speech.

The message in Obama’s speech rang clear: It is time to bolster the whole of the workforce in America through macro policy changes and micro changes. While Washington politicians bicker about who caused the inequality, cities such as San Francisco and states can start doing things to bring about real change.

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