In a huge, huge move, the Los Angeles city council voted to raise the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The increase — which the Los Angeles City Council passed in a 14-1 vote — comes as workers across the country are rallying for higher wages, and several large companies, including Facebook and Walmart, have moved to raise their lowest wages. Several other cities, including San Francisco, Seattle and Oakland, Calif., have already approved increases, and dozens more are considering doing the same. In 2014, a number of Republican-leaning states like Alaska and South Dakota also raised their state-level minimum wage by referendum.
The impact is likely to be particularly strong in Los Angeles, where, according to some estimates, more than 40 percent of the city’s work force earns less than $15 an hour.
“The effects here will be the biggest by far,” said Michael Reich, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was commissioned by city leaders here to conduct several studies on the potential effects of a minimum-wage increase. “The proposal will bring wages up in a way we haven’t seen since the 1960s. There’s a sense spreading that this is the new norm, especially in areas that have high costs of housing.”
Tuesday’s vote could set off a wave of minimum wage increases across Southern California, and the groups pressing for the increases say the new pay scales would change the way of life for the region’s vast low-wage work force.
Indeed, much of the debate here has centered on the potential regional impact. Many of the low-wage workers who form the backbone of Southern California’s economy live in the suburban cities of Los Angeles. Proponents of the wage increase say they expect that several nearby cities, including Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Pasadena, would follow Los Angeles’ lead and pass ordinances for higher wages in the coming months.
LA joins Seattle and San Francisco with $15 an hour, and Chicago's $13 an hour, and similar proposals are on the docket for NYC, DC, and Kansas City. By my ballpark figures, this means as many as 2 million or so workers are going to get a raise, and that's massive.
However, keep in mind that the movement for $15 a hour also involves unionized employees, and that's going to be a far tougher component to sell around the country.
Still, it's a start, and a much needed one.