Amid Fast Food Strikes, California To Raise Minimum Wage to $10 An Hour

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California state Legislature passed a bill Thursday that would raise the state's minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2016. The bill was sent to Governor Jerry Brown (D), who says he will sign it into law. The bill would raise the current $8 an hour minimum wage to $9 by next July, and to $10 by January, 2016.

The 25 percent raise would be the first minimum-wage increase California has seen in five years, and would benefit an estimated 2.4 million Californians. 

Democrats who pushed the bill emphasized the necessity of providing help to workers left behind by the recent recession. Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel), the bill's Senate floor manager, said raising the state's minimum wage, "is a moral imperative."

"This is the time to raise the minimum wage to provide relief for hard-working families," said the bill's author, Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville). He stressed that about three out of five minimum-wage earners are 26 or older, meaning they often have families to support.

Republicans, on the other hand, saw the bill as hurting workers. Senator Ted Gaines (R-Rocklin) likened the liberal desire to raise minimum wage to that of raising the cost of tobacco in order to discourage smokers from purchasing it. "If you make something more expensive, people will buy less of it," he said, saying the principle held true for labor.

Workers themselves welcomed the increase. Louis Benitez, a waiter at the J.W. Marriott in Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times, "It would be a big help to get a little bit more money per hour."

Shonda Roberts of Oakland, who has been working in the fast food industry for 15 years, says an extra $2 would help pay rent and put more food on the table. She said she has a hard time feeding both herself and her teenage son with her current wage. 

"It's a start," she said, "but I'm still going to fight for $15," referring to the current national campaign to raise federal minimum wage to that level.

Employees of fast food and retail chains, including McDonald's, Walmart, Macy's, Burger King, and Wendy's have gone on strike in more than 50 cities across the country for the last two weeks to demand pay raises and the right to form a union.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, fast food workers currently earn $9.03/hour on average. Only 18 states, and Washington, D.C. have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Twenty-three states have minimum wages at exactly the federal level. There are four states that have minimum wages below the federal minimum (I'm looking at you and your $5.15 an hour minimum wage, Georgia and Wyoming) and five states have not even established a state minimum wage.

Interestingly, a higher minimum wage doesn't necessarily signify that you work in a state where being a minimum wage worker is better. Bloomberg rated the worst states for minimum wage workers by looking at hourly minimum wage as a percentage of per capita hourly income, and Washington, D.C., where minimum wage is $8.25, is ranked number one. 

California is currently the state with the eighth-highest minimum wage in country, and the new minimum wage would make it the highest. Right now, Washington state has the highest minimum wage at $9.19 an hour, followed by Oregon at $8.95, and Vermont at $8.60. California state still wouldn't beat it's own city of San Francisco, however. The famously progressive city has a minimum wage of $10.50.

California isn't alone in its efforts to raise minimum wage. President Obama is currently — controversially — trying to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour. 

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