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Raising the Minimum Wage for Working Men and Women in California and the Rest of America

Congress Passes the Buck, So Localities Bump Up the Minimum Wage

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State and local governments haven’t always used their role as the “laboratories of democracy” wisely or for the general good. (The phrase reaches us indirectly from the great progressive Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.) But the expanding movement to increase state and local minimum wages is an encouraging sign of wisdom in the grass roots.

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This summer, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law raising the state hourly minimum wage to $10 by 2016. San Francisco’s minimum is set to rise to $10.55 on Jan. 1, thanks to a 2003 local law that tied the rate to inflation. The Washington, D.C., City Council will vote this month on a proposal to raise its minimum wage to $11.50. This is an arms race that can only do good.

Nor is it only a progressive’s battle. Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz is pushing a measure for the November ballot that would raise the state minimum to $12 in 2016. Unz, who ran for the GOP nomination for governor against Pete Wilson in 1994, was last heard from as the backer of Proposition 227 in 1998, which eviscerated bilingual education in California.

Unz is promoting the minimum wage hike as a an economic growth measure — putting $15 billion a year into the pockets of workers who would spend it would be “one of the largest economic stimulus packages in California history, funded entirely by the private sector,” he told KQED’s California Report.

He’s also making the eminently sensible argument that requiring employers to pay their workers a living wage relieves the taxpayers of that burden: “What we have is a system in which employers have privatized the benefits of their workers; they get all the labor, while they’ve socialized many of the costs, forcing the taxpayers to cover the living costs of their own workers, which is ridiculous.” Wal-Mart and McDonald’s aren’t doing their communities any favors by paying their workers so little they become wards of the taxpayers.

• Category: Campaign, National • Tags: Michael Hiltzik