Prosperity One Step at a Time

A cleverly subversive scheme for creating something Miami desperately needs: a middle class

The coalition has carried this so far as to become a trustee member of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and has persuaded chairman Peter Roulhac to make the prosperity campaign a priority of his term. "There was no employer who didn't see this as a no-cost, win win win," Levine says. "The most important thing about this is now the businesses are thinking about their workers. It gets us in the door." Roulhac, the chamber's first African-American chairman, says Levine and businesswoman Barbara Garrett "really put this issue on the map in the community. Clearly we are in business to make money, but we are also concerned about quality of life."

If that attitude holds, it will make the next step in the prosperity campaign more likely to succeed -- the fight for a so-called living wage. This is the issue that will really test the commitment of Miami's business and civic leaders, because it's put-up or shut-up time. A year-long push to implement a living-wage law in the city has so far been unsuccessful. And considering the current obsession among local leaders to suck up to Free Trade Area ministers and the corporations that motivate them, serious discussion of increasing the cost of doing business here is even less assured. Levine hopes to persuade her new friends in business and political circles that paying a decent wage is the other essential side of the prosperity equation. "Low wages are what we let people be paid," Levine argues. "We come up with ways to subsidize business, so we can [pay for labor] too. We are looking for leaders, for people to take the long-term view. Our campaign emphasizes prosperity, not poverty. It's very American."

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