$15 an hour — A better standard for thriving, instead of barely surviving communities.

by Don Baylor and Annette Case

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Early this week, news of the LA City Council’s decision to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour flooded the airwaves and dominated headlines. Los Angeles took action to boost their economy and adjust for federal inaction and labor market failure. While retail, restaurant, and service jobs have increased, employers have allowed wages to fall behind. In our current economy, hard work and long hours no longer guarantee a paycheck that leads to economic security — a reality that flies in the face of our fundamental belief that work promotes opportunity and mobility. Today, working people almost universally pay more to live in a smaller space, pay more for gas while they sit in traffic longer, pay more to buy less milk and eggs, pay more to keep their kids in care while working for lower wages.

A family working full time and paid the current minimum wage in L.A., will not work their way out of poverty. Even if paid more than poverty wages ($20,090 for a family of 4), this is still far away from economic security for most families. It is the difference between thriving instead of barely surviving, while also planning and saving for the future. Two working adults in a family in L.A. with two children would each need to be paid about $17 an hour just to afford the basics.

By paying people who work a minimum wage of $15 an hour by 2021 L.A. joins a powerful movement of other cities and leaders firmly nailing one major plank in the floor of economic security. New York City is also considering a similar increase. Currently 42% of working people are trapped below a level of income that allows them to sustain their family. Research shows that a $15/hour standard would honor over one million working people’s contribution to the economy and add net tax revenue of 2.8 billion dollars. Just six hours north of L.A., Rise Together Bay Area, a nine county San Francisco Bay Area effort, aims to expand the number of families sharing in the region’s prosperity. Paying working people a minimum wage of $15 is a primary policy that will help them accomplish their goal.

When working people can afford the basics such as health care, housing, and food they can support the well-being of their children, sustain their families, and build a stronger future for us all. They can invest in their communities, strengthening local economies, creating more jobs and public resources for good schools, parks, and transportation — all features of places where people actually want to live. Raising the floor also raises expectations about the type of community we want and is the first step to getting there. As Seattle, L.A. and Chicago have demonstrated, real progress is possible. Who’s up next?

Don Baylor and Annette Case are Senior Consultants for the Insight Center for Community Economic Development’s Metrics Matter Initiative.

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