HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-An initiative to raise the state minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2021 has qualified for the November election, adding to an already jam-packed ballot. Should the Fair Wage Act of 2016 pass, California would become the largest state to improve the standard of living for the 3.3 million low-wage earners in the state, including 600,000 in Los Angeles County alone, perhaps setting the stage for a higher minimum wage across the U.S. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf are co-chairs of the initiative campaign.
“For decades, California has led the country on environmental, health and civil rights protections and it’s only appropriate that we would become the first state to enact a minimum wage that allows millions of families to live in dignity,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “This initiative would build on the work done in the City and County of Los Angeles, and ensure a level playing field for all businesses and communities in California.”
The Fair Wage Act would raise the state minimum wage in steps, starting with $11 in 2017 and then gradually increasing it by a dollar a year until reaching $15 in 2021. The minimum wage would automatically be adjusted each year to reflect cost of living increases after that. Currently, California’s minimum wage is $10 an hour, which totals less than $21,000 per year for full-time workers.
Advocates for the initiative say increasing the minimum wage will not only improve the lives of millions of families but also generate additional tax revenue for state and local governments to improve infrastructure, reduce government aid to the poor, and will grow the economy as disposable income is spent in workers’ communities.
Opponents to increasing the minimum wage argue that minimum wage positions are meant for teens and that increasing the minimum wage will hit businesses in the pocket, causing a decrease in employment. According to the US Department of Labor, 89 percent of workers who would benefit from an increase are age 20 and above and 56 percent are female. A survey in July of last year concluded three of five small business owners with employees support a gradual increase, which would “immediately put more money in the pocket of low-wage earners, who will then spend the money on things like housing, food, and gas. The boost in demand for goods and services will help stimulate the economy and help create job opportunities.”
Would raising the minimum wage unduly effect the hospitality industry? As of May of last year, San Francisco employers have been required to pay tipped workers $12.25 per hour before tips. Despite the increase, the San Francisco leisure and hospitality industry has seen positive job growth.
The Fair Wage Act has endorsements from 300 community organizations, labor unions, faith leaders, and small business owners, as well as elected officials including U.S. Reps. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) and Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro), California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, California Controller Betty Yee, and 28 state legislators. According to a field poll, 68 percent of registered California voters support the initiative. The Fair Wage Act makes sense for California.
(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.