At Tuesday's hearing on raising the minimum wage in Los Angeles, City Councilman Curren Price listened attentively to three economists present their pitches for or against the idea. Then he asked his first question:
"If more and more surrounding areas raise the wage, including the County of L.A., what impact does that have on the city?"
Some analysts have warned that if Los Angeles raises its minimum wage, businesses will flee beyond the city limits, to places like Burbank and Long Beach, where they can pay employees less.
But not long after Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed raising the Los Angeles minimum wage last September, Santa Monica and West Hollywood began studying the possibility ... and keeping tabs on L.A.
"We have very large labor flows across city lines, particularly out of smaller cities," Dan Flaming of the Economic Roundtable said in response to Price's question. Flaming was the lead author of the study commissioned by the L.A. County Federation of Labor. "So reciprocity in paying fair wages and having living wage standards would be very beneficial across city lines," he added.
Those "labor flows" are exactly what Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl wants to know more about. She and fellow Supervisor Hilda Solis are introducing a motion to the County Board next week. It calls on the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation to analyze the following:
- The recent studies of the city of L.A.'s proposed wage hike
- The impact of raising the minimum wage
- Raising the wage for all employers in the unincorporated areas of the county
Kuehl told KPCC that it could be advantageous for L.A. county to follow L.A. city's lead. She estimates about 1 million people live in the unincorporated areas of the county, and the businesses there represent about 10 percent of the county's economy.
"So I'm working for a business that's paying me $9 an hour, and just across the line in the city of L.A., their businesses are all paying $13.25 an hour, maybe I'll just shift over there," she said.
She also acknowledged that businesses outside L.A. might see things differently. "It might be good for them because they're not paying as much," she said. "It might be bad because they're losing workers. We want to look at that, too."
While there has been some grassroots support for raising the minimum wage in Long Beach and Pasadena, neither city council has taken formal action to move it forward.
Chris Thornberg of Beacon Economics conducted the minimum wage study on behalf of the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the wage hike proposals. He called Santa Monica and West Hollywood "tiny economies" in Los Angeles County and said more cities would have to raise the wage.
"The big ones would be Torrance, Glendale, Burbank, and, as far as I know, there’s been no conversations about this," Thornberg said.