It was a bare majority of 21 Senators, but SB 935, which would increase the minimum wage in three steps and create an automatic adjustment in 2018, would seem to put a $15 an hour minimum wage in Davis back into discussion.
Senate Bill 935, authored by Senator Mark Leno, raises the minimum wage in three steps, starting at $11 an hour in 2015 and increasing an additional $1 per hour in both 2016 and 2017. Beginning in 2018, the minimum wage would be adjusted annually to the rate of inflation. SB 935 is co-sponsored by the Women’s Foundation of California and SEIU California State Council.
“Increasing the minimum wage is critically important to millions of hard-working Californians and their families who live in poverty and are forced to rely on the state’s social safety net programs despite being employed full time,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “By giving low-income workers the pay and respect they deserve, we will also address the growing inequality within our communities, which is a roadblock to economic recovery and a drain on already limited taxpayer resources.”
According to a release from Senator Leno’s office, “The Census Bureau reports that nearly a quarter of California’s 38 million residents, or 24 percent, live in poverty. An employee working full time earning $8 an hour brings home just $15,360 annually before taxes. The federal poverty level for a family of four with a single-wage earner is $23,850. San Francisco already has a higher minimum wage than the state and is considering raising it even higher. Los Angeles is also considering raising its minimum wage for hotel workers to $15.37 per hour.”
It adds, “Women are disproportionately impacted by the minimum wage. About six in 10 minimum wage workers in California are women, according to the National Women’s Law Center.”
“Not only will the proposed increase stabilize women, it will stabilize families and stimulate the economy,” said Judy Patrick, President and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California. “Because women are disproportionately minimum wage workers, raising the minimum wage would help close the gender wage gap. In addition, six out of 10 of the women earning minimum wage are breadwinners. Yet, despite working hard, because of the high cost of living in California, these women and their families are living in poverty. The long-term impact of this poverty is very costly to the state and to these families.”
Earlier this year, President Barack Obama raised the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 per hour while Congress weighed a proposal by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) setting the federal minimum wage to the same amount. In addition, prominent conservatives across the country, including Mitt Romney, Bill O’Reilly, Patrick Buchanan and Ron Unz, have recently expressed support for raising the minimum wage.
The release continues, “Importantly, Gov. Jerry Brown took a necessary first step of signing legislation that brings the state’s lowest wage up to $9 per hour later this year and $10 per hour in 2016. It would, though, still fall short of both the federal and give Californians less purchasing power than the state’s minimum wage did in 1968. That year’s minimum wage, if adjusted for inflation, would be worth $10.77 per hour today. Last year’s action also did not include the critical step of requiring automatic increases in the minimum wage to protect future earnings against inflation.”
The release notes, “New analysis from Human Impact Partners finds that raising the state’s current minimum wage to $13 by 2017 would significantly benefit the health and well-being of low-income Californians and their families.”
“A person’s income not only directly affects the ability to meet material needs, but it also impacts health through access to health care, quality and affordable neighborhoods, child health and development, chronic stress and interpersonal relationships,” Bruce Pomer, executive director of the Health Officers Association of California. “As a result, the 7.5 million lower-income Californians who could expect an increase in family income as a result of this legislation would also experience fewer chronic diseases and disabilities, less hunger, and lower rates of smoking, obesity and depression.”
It adds, “SB 935 is supported by a broad coalition of groups, including consumer advocacy, human rights, labor, government, health care and social worker organizations. It will be heard next in Assembly policy committees.”
In Davis, the push to put a $15/hour minimum wage ordinance on the ballot stalled after it generated a lot of controversy and concern.
But if the state minimum wage would go up to $13 an hour and Davis has a higher cost of living than other areas, does that put it back on the map?
Proponents argue, “It’s time to bring a $15/hr minimum wage to Davis. We can change things. Right now, the minimum wage is just $8 per hour. This translates to less than $17,000 per year. We’re trying to put an initiative on ballot for a $15 minimum wage in Davis. This ensures that nobody who works full time should have to live in poverty.”
But opponents are quick to cite data that many minimum wage earners are not the primary wage earners in their family. And that most minimum wage earners are young.
Another issue is whether a city should be the one making minimum wage laws.
As we have noted, Kari Fry in her letter claims to be in favor of minimum wage “increases that are already scheduled by the state of California and proposed by the president of the United States.” But she writes, “I do not support a localized minimum wage that inevitably will put our community at an economic disadvantage.”
The Enterprise in their editorial writes, “Oh, and while we’re at it: We oppose a city-by-city approach to the minimum wage. The state is the appropriate place for this change to occur.”
While that may not be an unreasonable position, it does ignore an interesting factor. California is almost as diverse as the United States. We have a federal minimum wage which sets the overall floor for wages and states are free to go higher.
Why should the same principle not apply within the state of California? It is not like all communities in California cost the same to live in. So if someone makes a given wage in Dixon or Woodland they have better purchasing power than someone who makes the same wage in Davis. So why not allow minimum wage laws to account for local preference and conditions?
It seems unlikely that the $13 minimum wage would get through a more conservative State Assembly and get signed by an increasingly pragmatic Governor Jerry Brown – particularly in an election year in which he is a shoe-in for a landslide reelection, but once again, this puts the idea of an increased minimum wage with an automatic inflator back into discussion.
—David M. Greenwald reporting