California’s minimum hourly wage will rise to $9 by next July and $10 by the beginning of 2016 after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the wage hike into law Wednesday. The wage boost in America’s most populous state could make California the state with the highest minimum wage and the first to set a $10 hourly wage floor. Washington’s $9.19 per hour is the highest minimum wage today, and because that state pegs its pay floor to inflation it could beat California to the $10 mark.
The new law is the latest indication that progress on wages is more likely at the state and local level than in Congress. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is worth less than it was in 1979 due to inflation, but with conservative opponents of wage protections in charge of half of the legislature any effort to repair that erosion in buying power is unlikely to pass. While federal progress is stalled, voters in Albuquerque, New Mexico and the California cities of San Jose and Long Beach have voted to raise the local minimum wage.
President Obama has called on Congress to raise the minimum wage to $9 per hour, but progressive lawmakers have suggested raising it to $10.10, which would restore minimum wage jobs to the buying power they had nearly 35 years ago. Such an increase would lift almost 6 million Americans out of poverty, most of them women and people of color. Even without Congress, President Obama could provide that same sort of boost to the 2 million low-wage workers who work for federal contractors.
An overwhelming majority of Americans, and even two-thirds of self-identified Republicans, support a $10.10 minimum wage.
While opponents insist that raising the minimum wage kills jobs, there is plenty of academic evidence that that isn’t true. Workers across the country have seen zero wage growth since 2000 despite increasing their productivity by nearly a quarter. Frustration with that lost decade of worker pay combined with a slow recovery that’s primarily produced service sector jobs that pay poverty wages has helped spark the largest ever wave of fast food worker strikes, stretching from coast to coast and border to border.