As the gears of federal government have ground to a halt, a new energy has been rocking the foundations of our urban centers. From Atlanta to Seattle and points in between, cities have begun seizing the initiative, transforming themselves into laboratories for progressive innovation. Cities Rising is The Nation’s chronicle of those urban experiments.
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As the Democratic proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour remains stalled in Congress—trapped in today’s Republican-made legislative purgatory—cities around the country have begun doing end-runs around the gridlock. San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Fe and Washington, DC, have all passed their own minimum-wage boosts, while Seattle set the record this spring with its $15 an hour minimum-wage hike. Now, San Diego has joined the effort, recently passing an ordinance to lift the city minimum to $11.50 an hour, and Los Angeles may be heading in that direction. Will more cities follow? And which will be next? Agnes Radomski and John Thomason bring the story from out West.
“With a New Minimum Wage Ordinance, San Diego Inches Closer to Seattle,” by Agnes Radomski
“Will Los Angeles Be the Next Front in the Minimum Wage Fight?” by John Thomason
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This past Monday, San Diego bucked its conservative reputation by joining the parade of West Coast cities that are fighting inequality by raising the minimum wage.
In a 6-3 vote, the City Council passed an ordinance to bump the minimum wage from $9 an hour to $11.50 an hour and allow full-time workers to earn up to five paid sick days a year. The change will unfold over three years, before being indexed to inflation, and will affect as many as 214,000 workers by 2017.
The new $11.50 minimum represents a more modest figure than the the one originally proposed by City Council President, Todd Gloria, and supported by a coalition of progressive San Diego groups. That proposal—for $13.09 an hour—was beaten back by the usual cast of minimum-wage antagonists, including the local chapter of the California Restaurant Association, the San Diego Hotel-Motel Association and segments of the business community. Still, the San Diego ordinance outstrips the statewide minimum-wage increase that was signed into law last year by Governor Jerry Brown and that boosts California’s wage floor from its recent high of $9 an hour to $10 an hour by 2016. It is also one of the few times that a single measure has been used to tackle the twin issues of paid sick leave and the minimum wage.
“This action is historic,” said Council President Gloria. “It’s a first for the city.… [W]e’re the largest city now with its own minimum wage, which is remarkable.”
San Diego’s minimum-wage raise comes amid powerful shifts in the city’s once-predictable landscape. As immigrants have helped transform San Diego from a majority white to a majority non-white town, they (along with others) have tugged the city gently leftward, forging potent new alliances along the way. At the same time, San Diego’s rising cost of living has turned it into one of the top ten most-expensive cities in the United States. According to the Center on Policy Initiatives, a nonprofit San Diego–based research center, more than 300,000 households across San Diego County don’t earn enough money to cover basic living expenses. CPI estimates that a person working forty hours a week would have to make at least $13.09 an hour to cover basic costs like housing, transportation, food and healthcare.