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Student Class Project Leads To Minimum Wage Jump

By MARTHA MENDOZA

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) â¿¿ If anyone deserves an A+ this week it's Marisela Castro, a daughter of farmworkers who turned her Social Action class project at San Jose State University into a campaign to increase the local minimum wage.

On Monday her activism paid off, as 70,000 workers in San Jose enjoyed the nation's single largest minimum-wage increase, a 25 percent raise from $8 to $10 an hour, amounting to a $4,000 annual bump in pay for a full time worker to $22,080.

"I never doubted for a minute we could make this happen," said Castro, 28, who grew up in agriculture-rich Gilroy, where her parents and at times Castro picked garlic, lettuce and other vegetables in nearby fields.

While putting herself through college in 2011, Castro worked at an after-school program with low-income children who slipped snacks into their backpacks because there wasn't enough food at home.

Meanwhile in her sociology classes she was reading about how a minimum wage job leaves workers â¿¿ especially those in one of the wealthiest regions of the country â¿¿ in severe poverty.

"When I understood what was happening in our community, it started to really piss me off," she said.

In her Social Action class, sociology professor Scott Myers-Lipton assigned everyone to create an advocacy campaign. Castro and several classmates chose raising the minimum wage.

"At some point during that semester it hit me that this was much more than a class project," said classmate Leila McCabe, 31, who graduated and now works for a nonprofit. "But we were determined and now that it's happening, it's amazing, very emotional."

The students started with a poll that found 70 percent of the community favored an increase. They later learned one in five local workers would be directly impacted. Then they asked Cindy Chavez, who heads the nonprofit Working Partnerships USA, for support.

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