Calif. considers adjusting min. wage annually


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 knock out rent first, but then you still have electricity, water, everyday expenses, food, gas," Spencer said.

From restaurant servers to retailer clerks and valets to car washers, help may be on the way. The Assembly Labor Committee just approved a bill that would adjust the state's minimum wage annually according to the rate of inflation. It can never decrease.

Assm. Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, wants to address the widening income gap, which the Public Policy Institute of California says is the highest in this 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 also could have some relief in this tough economy," Alejo said.

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 auto upholstery shop are paid minimum wage.

"Labor is the biggest expense we have," Benson said. "If you don't have predictability in that, you're either going to go out of business or you're going to have to cut jobs."

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

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

Ten states already tie their minimum wage to the rate of inflation. The California Catholic Conference found it takes an hourly wage of nearly $15 for a single adult to support a modest standard of living.

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