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Los Angeles Minimum-Wage Workers To Get A Raise


If the Los Angeles City Council gets its way, we may have some information soon on the real effects of a higher minimum wage. President Obama has called for raising that minimum across the country. He's been resisted by business groups among others who contend they would simply hire fewer people. Some evidence may now come from LA, one of the nation's largest cities, where the City Council approved a proposal yesterday that would increase the minimum to $15 per hour over the next five years. That is more than double the current national minimum. NPR's Sam Sanders has more.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Lekecia Dukes lives in South LA. She's a home health care worker, and she makes LA's current minimum wage, $9 an hour. Dukes says she's not making enough.

LEKECIA DUKES: No, I don't. I don't make enough money at all.

SANDERS: Dukes works about 25 hours a week because she's a single mother, and she has to take care of her 9-year-old son. She does odd jobs for extra cash.

DUKES: Picking up bottles for my son's school, help out a friend who has a thrift store on the weekends - gives me maybe $40. I try to have yard sales.

SANDERS: Duke says an increase in her wages might change all that.

DUKES: I would have more time and do something that would help, you know, increase my future, like go to school. I want to take up a trade.

SANDERS: The proposal that passed City Council is not expected to have trouble clearing the city attorney's office or getting signed by the mayor. Once it does, LA's minimum wage will jump to $10.50 next year, then gradually increase to $15 dollars an hour by 2020. Some very small businesses and nonprofits can delay the increases by a year. The city estimates 800,000 LA workers would benefit. But critics say it won't help people like Dukes at all.

RUBEN GONZALEZ: What I feel right now is sadness, thinking of all those folks who just lost their jobs and don't even know yet.

SANDERS: Ruben Gonzalez is with LA Chamber of Commerce. He says a wage increase that big will have to be offset.

GONZALEZ: These business, the only way to absorb the cost is they're going to outright have to cut jobs. They're going to have to automate, which will mean they won't hire as many people. Or they're going to cut the hours of the folks they have. Or they're going to have to cut things like benefits.

MICHAEL REICH: I don't see that happening on a substantial scale.

SANDERS: Michael Reich studies the labor market at the University California Berkeley. He authored one of the studies LA City Council used to make their proposal. Reich points to a lot of other places that have successfully raised their minimum wages. He says San Francisco is a good example. That city raised its minimum wage from $6.75 to $8.50 in 2003. Reich studied the data afterwards. And he says, compared to surrounding areas, jobs were fine.

REICH: No employment loss in San Francisco compared to the East Bay, no loss at all.

SANDERS: But LA is not San Francisco. And this jump to $15, that's a 66 percent increase. Nevertheless, Lekecia Dukes, that health care worker, she says 2020 is too long to wait.

DUKES: I'd make it $15 right now - yes, absolutely. Why - why not?

SANDERS: Well, the minimum wage could end up at even more than that. If this proposal passes, beginning in 2022, minimum wage hikes would be linked to the consumer price index. Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.