The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

California politicians play election year politics with minimum wage

Oct 2, 2006

In mid-September, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill passed by the Democratic-controlled state legislature that would raise the state minimum wage from its current level, $6.75 per hour, up to $7.50 in January 2007 and then to $8 per hour a year later. Schwarzenegger bragged that this will be the highest state minimum wage in the country.

That’s not saying much.

Even when the minimum wage reaches $8 per hour in 2008, it will still come to less than $17,000 per year – when someone works all 52 weeks in the year. Those who try to support a family of three on the minimum wage will remain lower than the official federal poverty line. Today in California, about 1.5 million workers, or about 10% of the workforce, barely earn the minimum wage.

The increase doesn’t begin to keep up with housing and transportation costs. In Los Angeles County, for example, estimates are that a worker has to make $22 per hour, or more than three times the current minimum wage, just to be able to pay the rent on an average two-bedroom apartment!

So the “new, improved” minimum wage will not allow millions of workers to live on an average 40 hour work week, not to speak of raise a family – or cover medical expenses.

This paltry raise was passed only because there is an election this November. With opinion polls showing that almost three-quarters of the electorate supports an increase in the minimum wage, Schwarzenegger could not have opposed such a raise in an election year without taking a big political risk.

Not to be outflanked, the Democrats complained that Schwarzenegger had prevented an automatic annual cost of living raise from being added to the minimum wage. In fact, the Democrats control both houses of the state legislature. They could have put it in the bill and put Schwartzeneggar really on the spot. As a matter of fact, only a few years ago the Democrats could have passed this measure themselves, since a Democrat, Grey Davis, was governor, and the Democrats controlled both houses of the state legislature. But they didn’t.

The Democrats are just as responsible as the Republicans for pushing down the wages of the working poor – to the profit of big business.

If working people want a decent minimum wage, they will get it in the same way as all their other gains were made – through their own struggles.