With the Los Angeles City Council’s recent approval to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020, it is my hope that we on the Board of Supervisors will move swiftly to address income inequality and wage stagnation in Los Angeles County. This means we must address at least three different areas: the poverty wage, the living wage and the minimum wage.
As one of the largest employers in the region, we in the county are considering adjusting the earnings of homecare workers who provide services to the elderly, frail and disabled beyond the poverty wage they currently make. These workers, who take care of the most vulnerable elderly residents among us, are being paid less than $10 an hour—or $20,000 per year. This annual income is less than the federal poverty level for a family of three. How is it that we tolerate this kind of wage for those who take care of our grandparents, parents and, relatively soon, us baby boomers? These workers care for more than 190,000 people in this county and offer policy-makers a less expensive alternative to nursing home care. In May 2013, the Board of Supervisors approved a 65 cent increase to $9.65 per hour. The Board of Supervisors must increase these in-home workers’ wages incrementally every year to $15 an hour.
As a contractor, Los Angeles County is addressing the living wage, by looking into increasing the hourly wages for workers hired by county contractors for janitorial, cafeteria and security services. I have asked for a report on what a living wage in Los Angeles should be. But it is critical that we establish a living wage of up to $15.79 by 2018, the amount the California Budget Project has calculated it takes to actually live in L.A. County, through gradual increases. After 2018, the wage should be adjusted annually based on the Consumer Price Index.
As a municipal government, Los Angeles County has the opportunity to increase the minimum wage so that workers in unincorporated parts of the county see their take home earnings increase. In March, the Board of Supervisors asked for a study on the fiscal impact of increasing the base pay for county employees, temporary contract employees and those working in unincorporated areas. It is my hope that we will come to an agreement by June and determine that a minimum wage must be in the range of $13-$15 an hour.
Income inequality and wage stagnation are the issues of our time. Noted experts, such as Nobel laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, have rightly recognized that the widening gap between the wealthiest in our country and the poor affects crime rates, health outcomes and leads to family dysfunction. The middle class, which has been a driving force in lifting our country to greatness, is particularly impacted.
It is my hope that our presidential candidates will continue to discuss the issues of wage stagnation and income inequality and offer national solutions to a national problem. In the meantime, local elected officials who are disturbed by the failure of national corporate and government leaders to address these decades-old problems, will have to make change happen in Los Angeles County.