As a testament to how important the minimum wage movement has become, it is now one of the key issues in the presidential race. With Fight for $15, a group backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), making news aound the country, questions about candidates' stands on minimum wage led off the GOP’s latest presidential debate and it was a key topic at Saturday’s Democratic debate. Notably, on Wednesday, SEIU endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.
At the November 14 Democratic debate, presidential hopefuls Clinton and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley fought over whether to raise the wage to $15 or $12 per hour, as reported by the Des Moines Register.
O’Malley said he supports a $15 per hour wage and stressed, “If our middle class makes more money, they spend more money and our whole economy grows. We did it and it worked, and nobody headed for the hills and left the state because of it.”
Former Secretary of State Clinton, however, called for a $12 per hour minimum wage, though she acknowledged that certain cities, such as Seattle, Los Angeles, and New York City might need a higher minimum wage. “[I]f you go to $12 [minimum wage at the federal level] it would be the highest historical average we’ve ever had,” she said.
Meanwhile, leading GOP presidential hopefuls all rejected the notion of increasing the minimum wage, as reported by The Huffington Post, with Donald Trump going so far as to say that America’s wages are too high. And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) intimated that a wage increase would cost jobs by leading to more automation.
Regarding the impact of increasing the minimum wage, it may be that both GOP and DNC candidates are partially correct in their assessments. The Congressional Budget Office estimated in February 2014 that a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour would lower employment by 500,000 jobs, or 0.3 percent of the nation’s total, though it would also lift 900,000 workers out of poverty and increase salaries for 16.5 million people, as reported by Ohio’s News-Herald.
Here is a look at the latest minimum wage news from around the country. The American Booksellers Association is encouraging its members to reach out to town, county, or state officials to ensure they have a voice in any minimum wage discussions that take place in their communities.
- California: LA County Releases Minimum Wage Analysis for Long Beach
- California: LA County Forms New Department to Police Minimum Wage Law
- New York: Gov. Cuomo Increases Minimum Wage for Public Employees
- Wisconsin: In Op-Ed, State Senator Calls for Higher State Minimum Wage
On Friday, November 13, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) released a study that explored what would happen if Long Beach, California, increased the minimum wage to $15 by 2020, as reported by the Press-Telegram. Unfortunately, LAEDC’s report, the Press-Telegram noted, is ambiguous enough that both proponents and opponents of a minimum wage increase could argue the findings support their side. The Long Beach City Council voted in August to hire the LAEDC for an analysis of potential impacts of raising minimum wages in the city.
The report stated: “The responses of employees and employers will impact overall economic conditions — often in opposite directions. For example, workers with higher wages can produce a stimulative effect if the aggregate of all workers have more income to spend. At the same time, if employers cut hours or jobs, then workers will have less income, offsetting the stimulative effect.”
The study’s best case scenario — where Long Beach businesses accommodate a $12 per hour wage increase by 2017 without cutting employees’ jobs or hours — shows that about 33,000 workers would garner an additional $940 in annual pay. With a minimum wage increase to $15 per hour by 2020, the findings show that about 46,000 workers would earn $5,160 more per year.
The LAEDC’s worst-case scenario shows that some 14,000 workers may be at risk of losing their jobs or having hours cut by 2017. That number of at-risk workers may rise to nearly 21,000 by 2020. The study indicated that 10 percent of businesses would expect to cut jobs if city government mandated a higher wage, while just three percent of firms said they would cut their employees’ hours in response to an increased minimum wage.
On Tuesday, November 17, Los Angeles County supervisors voted to create a new division to go after employers who violate the new minimum wage law that affects unincorporated parts of the county, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. The minimum wage in unincorporated areas of the county is set to increase to $15 by 2020, the article explained.
County supervisors have not yet decided on how the division will enforce the law, or how they will penalize offending employers. The Times noted that the county could revise its business permitting system to require more businesses in unincorporated areas to get county licenses.
Not all supervisors are on board with the new division. Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who cast the only dissenting vote, wondered why the county should create a new division to enforce the minimum wage law when there are already state and federal agencies tasked with enforcing labor laws. “I agree that wage theft is irresponsible and should be punished to the full extent of the law. We already have a state law,” Antonovich told the Times.
The Times article explained that, at the outset, the county wage enforcement division will only be responsible for investigating violations in unincorporated areas. Los Angeles, which will increase workers’ pay to a $15 minimum wage by 2020, has its own enforcement program. Brian Stiger, director of the county’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, told the Times that some of the 87 other cities in Los Angeles County might choose to contract with the county to enforce their wage rules.
Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he would establish a $15 minimum wage for all public workers. This means New York will pay its state workers more than any other state, as reported by the New York Times.
Under executive authority, the governor plans to gradually increase the hourly rate, with state workers in New York City earning $15 per hour by the end of 2018, and state workers outside of New York City earning wage increases at a more gradual pace, with hourly rates increasing to $15 by the end of 2021, the Times article noted. The new directive will result in about 10,000 workers receiving an increase in pay, according to the governor’s office, with the vast majority of those living upstate or outside the city.
The estimated cost to the state will be about $20.3 million annually by 2021, the Times reported. “The nation is going to watch us, and we’re going to raise up this state, and we’re going to raise up this nation to a higher level than it’s ever been,” Cuomo said at a minimum wage rally in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday, November 10.
In a November 15 op-ed published in The Wisconsin State Journal, Sen. Chris Larson (D-WI) urged the state to increase the minimum wage and chastised Republicans for refusing to act. Larson is the sponsor of Assembly Bill 264, which would increase Wisconsin’s minimum wage to $15 by 2020, as well as tie the minimum wage to the inflation index.
In his op-ed, Larson wrote: “Every worker in the state deserves a fair wage and a chance for them to offer a better life for their families, free from the worry of having to choose between buying groceries or being able to go to the doctor.” And he added: “The benefits of increasing the minimum wage are vast. Ensuring a fair wage reduces poverty without jeopardizing employment, strengthens our local economy, lowers the demand for public assistance, and helps create a more stable community.”
Larson said that “legislative Republicans have so far refused to act on ensuring Wisconsinites receive a fair wage for an honest day’s work.”