State Assembly committee approves minimum-wage increase tied to inflation


Chrishun Spencer is taking time off as a San Francisco waiter to visit old friends in Sacramento. Despite working two jobs at two different restaurants, the aspiring pharmacy technician finds it hard to live on minimum wage.

"Of course I'll knock out rent first, but they you still have your electricity, your water, your everyday expenses: food, gas," said Spencer.

From restaurant servers to retailer clerks, valets to car washers, help may be on the way.

The California State Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment just approved a bill that would adjust the state's minimum wage annually according to the rate of inflation, and it can't ever decrease.

Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Salinas) wants to address the widening income gap, which the Public Policy Institute of California says is the highest in the state in at least 30 years.

"Here in Sacramento, as we're talking about giving tax breaks and helping out businesses, let's balance that out, also thinking about, What plan do we have for working families across California so that they can also have some relief in this tough economy?" said Alejo.

While local cities can mandate a higher minimum wage, the last statewide increase took effect four years ago.

But Southern California businessman Tom Benson says tying wages to inflation is a job-killer if employers can't predict how much wages will be year to year. Many of his workers at his automobile upholstery shop are paid minimum wage.

"Labor is the biggest expense we have," said Benson, owner of Bud's Beach Cities. "And if you don't have predictability in that, you're either going to go out of business or you're going to cut jobs."

For Chrishun Spencer, tying the minimum wage to inflation would help him and millions of other Californians live a better life.

"We could at least start catching up and go from there, rather than us struggling and everything else going up," said Spencer. "If gas is going up and I'm still making minimum wage, it kind of screws me in the end."

Ten other states already tie their minimum wage to the rate of inflation. The California Catholic Conference found that a single adult needs to make nearly $15 per hour to support a modest standard of living.

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