California minimum wage up; policymakers push for further increases

New $9 an hour California minimum wage is 'insufficient,' advocate for working poor says

California's low-wage workers now have a little more money to pay their rent, see a doctor or hold an occasional backyard barbecue, now that the Fourth of July has come and gone.

The state's minimum wage rose one dollar Tuesday to $9 an hour.

The boost "is great progress and it's a significant step, but it's certainly insufficient," said Arun Ivatory, a strategist with the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for the working poor.

Most of the people earning the minimum wage are adults, many with children, who need higher pay to feed, clothe and shelter their families, he said.

Critics argue that setting the minimum wage too high keeps young people from finding entry-level jobs and sometimes forces small businesses to lay off workers or cut their hours.

Ivatory's group has been lobbying, so far unsuccessfully, to get Congress to raise the federal minimum rate to $10.10 an hour from $7.25, which it has been for five years.

California's new minimum wage is the fourth highest in the country, behind the District of Columbia at $9.50 an hour, Washington state at $9.32 and Oregon at $9.10.

Oregon's and Washington's are tied to the rate of inflation and go up with the consumer price index. California's minimum wage, though not indexed, is scheduled to rise again to $10 an hour on Jan. 1, 2016, under legislation signed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown.

But that's not enough for some state and local government policymakers. An effort by state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) to push the California minimum wage to $13 an hour in 2017, and match future increases to the annual inflation rate, died in an Assembly committee late last month.

Meanwhile, the city of San Francisco, which has the highest minimum wage in California at $10.74 an hour, has put a measure on the November local ballot to gradually raise it to $15 on July 1, 2018, and index it with inflation. The Bay Area cities of Oakland, Berkeley and Richmond are considering similar moves.

In Los Angeles, the City Council is working on a law that would raise minimum wages for thousands of hotel workers to at least $15.37 an hour starting July 2015.

Even some private-sector companies are taking similar actions. Ikea, the Swedish home furnishings retailer, plans to lift its minimum hourly wage at 38 mega-stores across the nation 17% to $10.76 starting in January.

Happier employees, Ikea said, create a happier shopping experience for customers.

Solar success

California is getting closer to a goal of generating 3,000 megawatts of solar power by 2017.

The Public Utilities Commission last week reported that the state has 2,302 megawatts of solar capacity from solar panels at the homes and businesses of 246,666 utility customers across the state.

That's the equivalent of the output from about four natural gas-fired power plants.

Twitter: @MarcLifsher

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