California Minimum Wage Increases

Faced with an aggressive, far-reaching initiative heading to the November ballot, California lawmakers have enacted the highest minimum wage in the nation.  Governor Brown quickly signed the measure which will bring the State’s lowest wage earners to $15 per hour by 2022.

The Governor has resisted increasing the minimum wage to rapidly for some time, but a labor-sponsored initiative which would do so has already qualified for the ballot and most observers expected a wage increase to pass easily.  (A second initiative is also circulating.)  Under California law, the legislature can “respond” to an initiative by enacting legislation and eliminating the need for a ballot measure.

Minimum wage workers in California often fall below the Federal poverty line, even if they live in some of the “lower” cost-of-living regions of the state.  Many local jurisdictions – such as the City and County of San Francisco – have raised wages significantly because of skyrocketing living expenses in such places.

The Catholic bishops of the United States have long held that the most effective way to build a just economy is to make decent work at decent wages available for all those capable of working.  When the economy fails to generate sufficient jobs, there is a moral obligation to protect the life and dignity of unemployed and underemployed workers and their families.

Labor groups cheered the announcement but business groups warned of potential or unwanted consequences.  Part of the reason the Governor and Legislature passed the wage increase was to put additional “off ramps” into the planned wage hikes – provisions that will allow the Governor to postponed a scheduled increase, for instance, during an economic downturn.  Small businesses are also given more time to comply.

 “Economically, minimum wages may not make sense,” said the Governor during a Monday signing ceremony in Los Angeles.  But “morally and socially and politically, they (minimum wages) make every sense because it binds the community together and makes sure that parents can take care of their kids in a much more satisfactory way.”

A national labor movement – Fight for 15 – has led the push to raise the minimum wage.  California is the first to act, followed by New York.

California’s minimum wage currently stands at $10 per hour while the Federal wage is $7.25.

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