Minimum-Wage Hike Helps, but Not Nearly Enough

The "Fight for $15" movement that began with fast-food and other low-wage workers helped spark California's latest round of minimum-wage hikes. Photo Credit: NY Communities

Logan Pollard
California News Service

PASADENA, Calif. – Low-wage workers won a victory with California’s minimum-wage increase, in effect starting this week.

The increases will be yearly and incremental, this year, it’s 50 cents, bringing worker pay to $10.50 an hour and ultimately, to $15. But for many, it still isn’t really enough to get by. About 22 percent of Californians live in poverty, and the service workers’ union SEIU said that’s essentially because seven out of ten jobs pay less than $15 an hour.

Frank Trejo is one such worker. At 23, he said he’s supporting himself, his mother and two younger relatives.

“Right now I’m working two jobs,” he said. “In the morning, I open at McDonald’s from 4 to 12, as maintenance, and then I go to my second job as a dishwasher.”

Some small businesses say they empathize with workers but just can’t afford the pay hike, and might even relocate to states like Nevada, with its $8.25 minimum wage and fewer taxes and regulations. Others argue that focusing on pay rates, instead of keeping jobs in-state and improving job training, won’t do enough to patch the deeper problems around job creation.

Trejo said his mom, who also cares for a young niece and nephew, will soon be moving. Pasadena, where the median household income hovers around $70,000 and rent tops $1,400 a month, is just too much for the family right now.

“So, she’ll be taking the kids to my grandfather’s house, and I’ll be moving in with one of her friends, who has an empty room and will be renting that room to me,” he added. “And I’m still planning on supporting my mom and helping her out, any way I can.”

Trejo said he’d like to go back to school.

“I want to be able to get an education, in a field where I can work with my hands and use my brain more than just working hard, or stressing my body,” he continued, “So, something like electrical engineering, or some sort of mechanical division.”

But making a living and helping out family means putting those plans on the back burner for now, even with a higher minimum wage.