State's minimum wage increase on Jan. 1 is only the beginning

Los Angeles City and Council begin their climb towards a $15/hour minimum wage in July
Los Angeles City and Council begin their climb towards a $15/hour minimum wage in July Stock photo by Wesley Pinkham via Flickr Creative Commons

California's statewide minimum wage is set to rise to from $9.00 per hour to $10.00 per hour on January 1, but in Los Angeles County, that’s only the beginning of more increases — and debates.

In the city of Los Angeles and the county’s unincorporated areas, the minimum wage will go up another 50 cents in July, to $10.50 an hour.  This will begin an incremental climb to the hourly rate of $15.00 by 2020 that the City Council and County Board of Supervisors approved this past summer.  Businesses with 25 employees or fewer will get a one-year delay on the increase.

Officials in Pasadena, Long Beach, and Santa Monica appear to be moving towards the same schedule — or something close to it — at their own pace.  Each city will have more hearings and meetings on the minimum wage in the first months of the new year.  West Hollywood's Mayor Lindsey Horvath said her city could raise the wage at an even faster rate, while Glendale Mayor Ara Najerian wants to wait and see how the early incremental increases play out in the other cities. 

"I think there will be a lot of pressure," says Raphe Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State-Los Angeles.  "I think that labor is going to be working very heavily in those smaller communities of the 88 cities of L.A. County. The question is: will they stay out of it or will they jump in?"

Sonenshein adds that a statewide minimum wage increase measure could give those smaller cities a pass. Currently, two initiatives are working their way toward California's November 2016 ballot. Each is backed by a different faction of the Service Employees International Union.  

The United Healthcare Workers West faction wants to increase California's minimum wage by $1 an hour annually until it reaches $15 an hour in 2021. The California Board of the SEIU proposes a similar measure but adds a guarantee that every full-time worker will receive at least 6 days per year of sick leave.

"There's always a risk when there's two measures on the ballot that voters get confused and unhappy and knock them both down," says Sonenshein, but the idea of raising the minimum wage is popular with voters.  "Generally, it polls very well, not just in California, by the way… it polls well in Nebraska, a very conservative state," he says. 

For that reason, he believes the minimum wage will be one of the biggest economic issues in the 2016 presidential election.  

"When the two [presidential] candidates are selected by the parties,  they will debate whether the national minimum wage should go up, and whether states should get out ahead of it," he says. 

He does not expect the two presidential candidates to agree on the answer.

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