The California State Senate voted on party lines Monday to raise the minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2017–a 44% increase from where it stands today, at $9 per hour. Just two years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that increased the minimum from $8 per hour in 2013 to $10 per hour by 2016. The new bill, introduced by State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) as a measure to reduce poverty and inequality, would amount to a staggering and unprecedented 62.5% increase in four years.
Though economists debate the effect of raising the minimum wage, it has limited benefits for the poor. Minimum wage jobs tend to be entry-level positions held by young people. Employers typically react to minimum wage hikes by raising prices, cutting hours, reducing jobs, or moving. That may make entry-level jobs more scarce. In some cases, minimum wage hikes may actually hurt employees by raising their incomes enough to disqualify them from various forms of public assistance.
The minimum wage has become more of a propaganda symbol for the Democratic Party than a real policy tool. President Barack Obama, who has presided over a rapid increase in inequality, has proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour and $10 per hour. Liberal cities on the West Coast, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have voted to raise local minimum wages to $15 per hour. Democrats, backed by public unions, are pledging to do likewise across the nation.
Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley told supporters at the launch of his presidential campaign last Saturday that “a higher minimum wage” would “build an economy that works again for all of us.” And former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has hinted that she may support a nationwide hike to $15 per hour. But in Los Angeles, unions recently suggested they would accept lower wages for companies that unionize–a hint that what is really at stake is power, not poverty.