Developing a Responsible Minimum Wage

This week, I was part of the first in a series of Economic Development hearings regarding the minimum wage increase proposal. Three studies from economic groups chosen by business and labor as well as the City Council reviewed our motion to increase minimum wage from $9 an hour to $13.25 by 2017, and to $15.25 by 2019. 

When my colleagues and I first introduced this motion, my goal was to create policy that ensured that everyone in our City was able to earn a living and still give their children a chance for a better future. And one of the ways to do that is to increase the minimum wage but in a way that is responsible and supports job creators throughout the City.

Councilwoman Nury Martinez with welder and Mayor

I believe this policy is important and historic. It is about giving Los Angeles workers the opportunity to earn a wage and support their families. This motion is intended to ensure that there are parents at home after five o’clock and that children are not raising themselves.

At one time, families came to the Valley because of jobs with good wages and that provided this opportunity. I was born and raised in the Valley and I remember distinctly how my life and my family’s life was changed when my mother got a union job and made nearly $13 an hour over 20 years ago. Today, we have lost those good paying jobs and now too many families in my District are trying to raise children on incomes even lower than what was a lower-middle class income in the 1970s and 80s.

Today, our residents make 23% less than the average resident in our City each year and only 15.8% have a bachelor degree according to the Chamber’s 2014 Economic Report that came out at the end of last year. In fact about half of our District is employed in service and sales industries that all studies agree will be directly impacted by this wage increase. As the City commissioned study cited, the average impacted worker is 33 years old, more than a third are parents and only 3% of impacted workers are teens.

But I don’t need to read another statistic to know what it feels like to be poor because I’ve lived it and, as we can see, too many of our residents are living it today. We cannot romanticize poverty and talk about it as if it was a problem impacting individuals thousands of miles away. It’s right here. All the studies agree that, with or without a minimum wage, the City will be adding jobs to our economy. So the true difference will be if we increase the wage, all of those jobs will be better paying.

We need to get back to those good paying jobs in the Valley. In my experience, businesses have and will continue to rise to the occasion. When I was Executive Director of an environmental nonprofit, we worked with FedEx to turn a polluted Sun Valley site into a job creating green distribution center. There are countless stories like these from companies like La Brea Bakery, Anheuser-Busch and many others that are raising the bar in our District and creating jobs that are already higher than the minimum wage. I believe that we can work with job creators and encourage them to rise to the occasion and proceed in a way that benefits residents and job creators alike.

This discussion is far from over and I am eager to hear from you about how we can achieve a better future for our children in a responsible manner. There are still additional hearings, including one at Van Nuys City Hall (6262 Van Nuys Blvd) on Tuesday, March 31, at 6pm as well as the Watts Labor Community Action Committee headquarters tonight and the Museum of Tolerance. Soon we will hear from the Office of the Chief Legislative Analyst and further discussion with my colleagues and you. Let us continue to work together to make our District better for everyone in our community.