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Raise the Minimum Wage

December 14, 1987

Workers who earn the minimum wage have not had a raise in nearly seven years, but that has not stopped the price of groceries or rent or anything else from going up. A pay increase--at least another dollar, from $3.35 to $4.35 an hour--is certainly in order. California's Industrial Welfare Commission can provide it.

The current rate works out to $6,700 a year--poverty wages for any family. A proposed increase scheduled for a vote by the commission on Friday would nudge it up--but only by two quarters, a dime and a nickel. That's barely enough to buy a cup of coffee, let alone keep pace with inflation.

California's poorest workers deserved a boost to $5.01 an hour to stay even with the cost of living, according to the commission's computations two years ago. They got nothing. They continue to lose ground.

Most families would be better off with a welfare check than a pay check that is based on the minimum wage. A single parent with two children would have to earn more than $5 an hour to do better. The state workfare program guarantees jobs that pay $5.14 per hour to welfare recipients who get off the dole. Poor people, who would rather work than live on welfare, deserve the same incentive.

Although the minimum wage is set nationally, poor workers can't count on the Reagan Administration or Congress for a bigger pay check. Fortunately, states can also raise the minimum wage. Six have done so. California, an expensive place to live, should be next.

A coalition made up of the United Neighborhoods Organization of East Los Angeles, the South-Central Organizing Committee on the Southside and the East Valleys Organization from the San Gabriel Valley have relentlessly waged the battle to boost the rate in California. The coalition has persuaded major employers like the Ralphs supermarket chain and The Boys Markets grocery chain to openly support a substantial increase. That ought to prove persuasive to the state commission.

Nearly 322,000 Californians work at hard, dirty or demanding jobs for the minimum wage. Some get no benefits, no health insurance, no sick days, no paid vacations--just a weekly pay check of $134. Poor parents try to stretch those small checks to pay rent, buy groceries and get other necessities. In those homes children often must go without.

The minimum wage guarantees poverty and sometimes hunger for thousands of families. The state's Industrial Welfare Commission should approve a more reasonable rate, at least another dollar per hour, to allow people who are willing to work to make ends meet in California.

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