Exclusive: State Sen. Padilla Discusses Bill to Set a ‘Living Wage’ for CA

California families can’t live on minimum wage, so new state Senator Steve Padilla is proposing a higher standard with his “living wage” bill

Despite the fact that California has one of the highest minimum wages in the country, a third of families in the Golden State are not earning enough to support their basic needs. Newly elected Senator Steve Padilla has introduced legislation for the state to calculate what a “living wage” should be, providing an official yardstick to determine future increases.

As the cost of living continues to outpace wage increases, Senate Bill 352 would compel the state legislature to create a formula to determine the necessary local minimum wage to afford one’s basic needs and live a comfortable life in any part of the state, CalMatters reports.

“I introduced SB 352 to develop robust discussions about cyclical poverty and affordability in California,” Sen. Padilla (D-San Diego) told LAMag. “Far too many families earn far below the threshold they need to meet in order to afford the basic needs where they live. Right now, California has no scientific measure for how to set the minimum wage. We have relied on the incredible work of advocates to set a standard, but we cannot rely on the work of advocates alone.”

On January 1st, California saw its minimum wage increase to $15.50, a 50-cent increase—a 2016 wage law caused the change and was activated due to inflation growth. Alongside the increase, the new year provided a smorgesbord of other workers’ rights, including: better pay equity, family and medical leave, and an inability to punish workers for consumption of marijuana outside the workplace.

Some cities have taken it upon themselves to further change—West Hollywood’s minimum wage of $17.64 for hotel workers, the highest in the country at the time, took effect last year.

Still, California suffers from a poverty rate of 12.3 percent and high housing costs.

The bill, if it were to pass and become law, however, wouldn’t force the legislature to make changes to the minimum wage. Rather, it would provide legislators a tool to make decisions accordingly through understanding just how far off they are from a living wage—the California Workforce Development Board would provide annual recommendations for a minimum wage to the legislature.

“For the first time, SB 352 develops a data-driven standard that links costs to wages that instead of becoming outdated, adapts in real-time to what it costs to live in every region of the state,” Sen. Padilla said.

Citing his conversations with the advocacy group United Way of California and other experts in a press release, Sen. Padilla’s plan is to analyze the true cost of living based on the actual needs of Californians to lead comfortable lives. One example is United Way’s Real Cost Measure which includes housing, food, transportation, healthcare, childcare, taxes, and miscellaneous expenses to determine county-specific annual income.

According to an income calculator based on data up until 2019 and provided by the non-profit, a family of four in Los Angeles County (two middle-aged parents and two young kids) would need a monthly income of $7,624 or $22 an hour per parent to provide all seven expenses.

Yet, the calculator lists rent at only $1,791 per month. While that may be enough in some areas, it’s close to $1,000 lower than the average for a 3-bedroom in Los Angeles County for 2022.

A 50-cent increase to the minimum wage only provides $1040 annually.

“The approach Sen. Padilla is putting forward with SB 352… will identify significant gaps between what it costs for families and their children to live with dignity and what they actually earn,” Peter Manzo, President & CEO of United Ways of California, said in a press release. “This should be the yardstick by which we set our priorities, and this bill would provide community and civic leaders, the business sector, and public officials a vital tool to help families not just survive but actually thrive.”

Voters in California will have the opportunity to voice their own opinions on wage increases when two measures arrive on ballots in 2024, CalMatters reported. One measure would allow voters to raise the minimum wage to $18 and the other would create the fast food industry council that would be able to then raise the minimum wage for fast food workers to $22.

“We have a permanent underclass of workers that work 80 or 90 hours a week, but are still dependent on public services for survival. This isn’t economically or socially sustainable and we need to examine what ending this oppressive cycle of poverty looks like,” Sen. Padilla said. “Everyone working a full-time job should be able to afford housing where they work.”

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