Business & Economy

L.A. will likely raise minimum wage. Do those who earn it think it will help?

Tashan Martinez works as telemarketer, earning $9 an hour plus commission.
Tashan Martinez works as telemarketer, earning $9 an hour plus commission.
Brian Watt

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At meetings at City Hall and across Los Angeles, City Council members have listened patiently in recent months to different takes on raising the minimum wage. 

Small business and restaurant owners have spoken of rising labor costs and possible layoffs, and low-wage workers have choked back tears through explanations of how tough it is to live on the city's current minimum wage of $9 an hour. 

At Tuesday's meeting, where the council approved a proposal to raise the wage to $15 an hour by 2020, supporters and opponents had yet another chance to make their case in a minute or less. 

"I'm a mother of three, and I'm still struggling," said Kawana Anderson. "It's hard for me to pay my bills. It's hard for me to get to work."

Joseph Hightower, a carpenter, put it simply: "I have boots, but I've never owned a suit."

Fatima Murietta called herself a "young professional" who is working three jobs both to stay afloat financially and to help her mom pay her rent "because she simply can't afford it on her minimum wage job." 

City Council members like Paul Krekorian say help is on the way. "We are giving a raise to 700,000 people who are living at the bottom," Krekorian told reporters after the Tuesday vote.  

The minimum wage would start rising in July of 2016 to $10.50 an hour and move gradually to $15 an hour by 2020.  

Tashan Martinez, who works as a telemarketer, welcomes the news. He's been working as a telemarketer for the past three years, earning the minimum wage plus some commission. It's barely a living:  "After everything tallies up — car note, health insurance, taking care of all utilities, rent — you're just getting by, really," he told KPCC on his way into work in downtown Los Angeles.

Martinez had heard about the City Council's vote and said it's making him and a lot of his co-workers smile, but he's thinking about the long term. "If minimum wage is going to go up, what is going up?" he said. "How much is the cost of living going to be in 2020? How much is my car note going to be in 2020? How much is … you know? So we still gotta keep everything in mind." 

All but one council member voted in support of the wage hike plan, but several acknowledge there are a lot of uncertainties.  

"Everybody is concerned about unintended consequences," Council president Herb Wesson told reporters after Tuesday's vote, calling the plan "somewhat of a leap of faith."