The fight for wage fairness should not end with $15

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the landmark minimum wage deal that bypassed ballot measures on Monday morning, undertaking a statewide experiment of sorts. California will be the first state to raise the wage to $15 an hour in increments from 2017 to 2022, following in the footsteps of cities such as Seattle and New York City. Though this decision marks a victory for workers’ groups, like Fight for 15, it doesn’t signal the end of the struggle for a livable wage. Rather, it prompts close monitoring and tandem legislation to ensure that the cost of living does not eclipse the spending power of California’s wage earners.

Despite rising inflation rates, the Fair Labor Standards Act set the federal hourly minimum wage at $7.25 in 2009, with no changes since. In 19 states, the minimum wage is either the federal level or does not exist at all. Given that if California could stand alone, it would be the world’s eighth largest economy, it is a mystery as to why it took this long to secure the remuneration and stability of its workforce.

In fact, wage fairness in California — particularly in Los Angeles — has been moving in the opposite direction in the recent past. The nonprofit research group Economic Roundtable reports that wage erosion has caused 75 percent of L.A. laborers to earn less than comparable workers from 30 years ago. In the face of wage injustice, economists have carefully arrived at the $15 wage as a livable one, and concluded that the increase can take place without job loss because increases will be incremental. After years of post-recession stagnation and the tireless efforts of politically mobilized workers, the plan signed by Brown comes as a long-awaited breath of fresh air — and just plain common sense.

California would do well to look at other cases of the $15 minimum wage, however. Seattle, which has a high cost of living similar to that of Los Angeles and San Francisco, passed its wage reform law in 2014 and will hit its $15 goal as soon as 2017. Their plan even sets the wage over $18 by the year 2025. In addition, the new California minimum wage will mean different things in different regions; Pew Research Center reports that densely populated areas, like Southern California and the coast, will only exercise a spending power of $12 relative to the hourly $15 wage. This cost adjustment and Seattle’s prospective wage increases put the new California law into perspective — if what workers need now is $15, will that amount still be appropriate by the year 2022?

Perhaps not, but there are certain things California legislators can do to facilitate living on $15 an hour. In a state where 20-somethings shell out $400 a month to live in a wooden “pod” barely larger than a mattress, housing costs need serious regulation. Even with the blessing of improved transportation in Los Angeles comes a curse — renting prices along the unopened Expo Line of the Metropolitan Transit Authority have already shot up by as much as 45 percent. If gentrification wrought by the projected Metro extensions prices out locals of working-class neighborhoods like the San Fernando Valley’s Van Nuys and Sylmar, soon there won’t be affordable housing for minimum wage earners and their families, and bustling areas like Los Angeles will face a deficit of workers that once ran their economies.

Another large expense factored into the cost of living is nutrition, which varies regionally depending on the presence of food deserts where fresh fare is lacking and people opt for unhealthy, readily available fast food. Food deserts have nearly become a way of life in L.A. and USC’s own neighborhood of South Central, but they also paradoxically plague central regions of California, where produce is grown in mass quantities. The state racks up $10.4 billion in annual obesity-related healthcare spending as a function of its unhealthy eating habits, an insurmountable sum for people working for $15 an hour.

Though Brown’s minimum wage deal is a welcome and necessary change in California’s economic landscape, the reality of the situation is that $15 is not the same across the board. To better guarantee the prosperity of its labor force, California lawmakers should focus on rectifying regional variability by controlling rent and dissolving food deserts in conjunction with adjusting the wage over time to reflect accurate purchasing power. If what the labor unions and the governor envisioned was an improved quality of life for wage-earners, they must also include matters of expense associated with income.

3 replies
  1. Teddy Edwards
    Teddy Edwards says:

    A fundamental difference between Left and Right concerns how each assesses public policies. The Right asks, “Does it do good?” The Left is more likely to ask a different question.

    Take the minimum wage, for example. In 1987 the New York Times editorialized against any minimum wage. The title of the editorial said it all: “The Right Minimum Wage: $0.00”.: There’s a virtual consensus among economists, “ wrote the Times’ editorial board, “that the minimum wage is an idea whose time has passed. Raising the minimum wage by a substantial amount would price working people out of the job market.” Why did the New York Times editorialize against the minimum wage? Because it asked the question, “Does it do good?”

    But 27 years later, this New York Times editorial page wrote the very opposite of what it had written in 1987 and called for a major increase in the minimum wage. In that period of time, the Times editors had moved further and further to the left, and was not preoccupied with the question, “Does it do good?” But with the question, “Does it FEEL good?”

    And it “feels” good to raise poor people’s wage.

    So then, why DO liberals support a higher minimum wage if it doesn’t do good? Because it makes them feel good, about themselves. “We liberals, unlike conservatives, care about the poor.” Why do liberals support race-based affirmative action? For the same reason: It makes liberals feel good .. about themselves. They appear to be righting the wrongs of historical racism. And the same holds true for leftwing peace activism. It‘s nice to think of oneself as a peace activist. All this helps to explain why young people are so much more likely to be liberal than conservative: They haven’t lived long enough to really know what DOES good. But they sure know what FEELS good.

    As society moves further and further to the Left, so does the preoccupation with feeling good over doing good. The world is getting worse and worse. But many people are feeling better and better about themselves while it does.

  2. Ras5555
    Ras5555 says:

    Nothing comes for free.

    People in favor of simply raising the minimum wage to make poor people less poor, are taking the lazy approach to what would be the equivalent of wanting a new TV, but you can not afford the cost of a TV, so you just buy it on credit…the “true” cost of that TV will come back and haunt you some day.

    When Detroit went broke, almost all news stories were lamenting the fact this did not happen overnight. Yes, we let unions go crazy and companies simply were feed up and all those car manf. jobs went overseas – probably never to return again. Only stupid people and mealy-mouthed politicians think you turn a knob to a higher setting for min wage and problem is solved. If $15/hr is not a realistic price to pay for certain jobs, then this is simply not going to be a long term solution.

    Welcome to LA – the Detroit of tomorrow

  3. Thekatman
    Thekatman says:

    The raise of this wage will serve only the estate income tax board for a short while before people and businesses move out of CA to less expensive place to live and work, like Texas. The minimum wage is not a wage that was designed to be livable. It is designedto mm avoid child labor law violations for kids in part time, non skilled, entry level work.

    No way should a hiusekeeper, or burger flipper, for example, get paid more than someone in a skilled labor job, such as the US military, paramedics, etc….

    The cost of living will soon increase dramatically thus running some business out of business or out of the state.
    Gov Brown has initiated the continued economic fall of CA.

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