California Considers Minimum Wage Hike

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


In the Los Angeles Times today, Tom McClintock, a Republican state Senator, says that California shouldn’t raise the minimum wage. It will destroy jobs! People will be unemployed! Misery and poverty to follow! Anyone who thinks otherwise has fallen victim to the “smarmy rhetoric of leftist populism,” you see:

The truth is that if your labor is worth $6.75 an hour and the minimum wage is raised to $7.75, you simply become unemployable. The first rung of the ladder is gone, and there’s no place to start.

That sounds very clever, but here’s some more “smarmy rhetoric” to consider. Very rarely, if ever, have modest minimum wage hikes had any sort of effect on employment in the real world. The Economic Policy Institute has written up the state level data for all to see. Employment in Florida actually rose after a dollar hike in the minimum wage last year. Call it magic. Congress boosted the federal minimum in 1990-91 and 1995-96 and no one can recall hordes of “unemployable” people wandering the street with their life possessions in shopping carts (the 1995 hike, in fact, preceded one of the tightest labor markets in recent memory). Britain and Australia have had similar experiences. Maybe if we squint really hard the real truth will become apparent, but that’s the basic story.

No matter. McClintock’s leaps on yet another canard—that the minimum wage only helps middle-class teenagers working cushy jobs at the mall:

One newspaper gushed that the proposed state increase will boost the pay of California’s “working poor” by $2 billion. But the vast majority of minimum-wage earners are part of middle-class families. Most are teenagers chasing their first job or spouses of breadwinners trying to find a niche for themselves in the job market.

I’m not sure what the precise statistics are for California, but this sounds dubious. Heather Boushey of CEPR has estimated that, nation-wide, the average minimum-wage worker earns 68 percent of his or her family’s income—precisely the sort of person who badly needs help. And that gushing newspaper likely has things right: After the 1995-96 federal increase, 35 percent of the gains went to the poorest 20 percent of the population. Very few policies are half as progressive, and if a few middle-class teenagers get richer as a result, well, what of it? (And given how fast California’s tuition fees are rising, most of those teenagers probably need those extra dollars to pay for college.)

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate