San Diego City Council passes token minimum wage increase

On July 14, the San Diego City Council voted and approved an increase in the minimum wage. If the measure goes into law, it will raise the minimum wage from its current level of $9 per hour to $11.50 by January 2017.

The minimum wage in San Diego and other California cities was $8 per hour for six years, prior to a $1 increase that took effect state-wide this month. The increase proposed by the city council would be phased in, with a $1 increase at the beginning of 2015 followed by $0.75 increases the next two years.

Bringing the wage up to $11.50 in 2017 would make it about level, taking into account the rising cost of living, with what it was in 2008. The city council also voted that by January 2019 the pay scale for the minimum wage would be indexed to inflation. It would also require companies to offer five earned sick days annually.

These increases, significantly lower than even the minimal increases in other cities, are a political fraud aimed at bolstering the Democratic Party while doing little or nothing to address the financial burden facing low-wage workers in one of the most expensive cities in the United States.

The city council voted 6-3 in favor of the proposal, along party lines. The Democrats backing the proposal did so as part of a public relations operation that is being coordinated nation-wide. Republicans opposing the plan cited the supposed job losses that would come from any minimum wage increase.

Both the mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer, and San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Jerry Sanders have opposed the measure. Faulconer has the option of vetoing the ordinance, which is not yet law. There will be a second reading of the ordinance later this month.

The divisions between the two big-business parties closely resemble the debates that took place earlier this year when the Obama administration proposed raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.

If it goes through, San Diego will become one of several cities in the United States that has a minimum wage level higher than the federal level. Cities such as San Jose and Seattle have seen an increase, from $8 to $10.15 and $9.32 to $15 an hour, respectively.

In Seattle’s case, the increase will be phased in over seven years, excluding teenage workers and various exemptions for corporations. These exemptions were phased in as the legislation was deliberated. If the San Diego measure is ultimately passed, it will likely come after similar changes are introduced to even further guarantee the interests of the corporations. (See: “Seattle’s $15-an-hour minimum wage of little benefit to workers”)

There is no question that a sharp rise in the wages for low-wage workers is required. Earlier this year, the Center on Policy Initiatives, a San Diego-based nonprofit research institution, published a study titled “Making Ends Meet 2014 – When Wages Fail to Meet Basic Costs of Living in San Diego County.” The study centered on the wages needed in San Diego County to reach a level of self-sufficiency.

The report found that in order for a working class individual living in San Diego to attain self-sufficiency, he or she would have to work full-time at an hourly wage of $13.09. A two-adult household with an infant would need a combined yearly income of about $67,000, or $16 an hour for two full-time workers.

In San Diego, 300,000 households (about 38 percent of the total number of households) cannot survive adequately off their income. Notably, many of these workers are not considered “poor” according to the absurdly low federal poverty measures.

Workers who are fortunate enough to have obtained full-time positions, which are becomingly increasingly difficult to find in San Diego, share the struggle with part-time workers. One in four San Diego households that have a full-time employee are unable to attain “self-sufficiency” as defined by the report.

The minimum wage increase will not begin to address this growing social and economic crisis, and hardly puts a dent in the long-term stagnation of minimum wage levels. According to a study published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, if the minimum wage had kept up with actual increases in worker productivity in the United States, it would have reached $21.72 an hour in 2012.

The token increase would take place in the midst of a massive attack on all fronts against the living standards of workers. Moreover, workers throughout the city and across the country face sharply increasing costs for basic necessities, including education and health care, with the latter driven by the consequences of Obamacare.

In a political sense, such measures represent a maneuver by the Democratic Party and the organizations that orbit it to present a “left” face. Minimum wage proposals are being pushed in various cities by local Democrats, the unions and pseudo-left organizations (like Socialist Alternative in Seattle) in careful coordination with the Obama administration. The aim is to try to bolster the Democrats, particularly in the run-up to the 2014 and then the 2016 elections.

Thus the minimum wage proposals are aimed at providing political cover for a party that has overseen a historic attack on the social conditions of the working class. Under the Obama administration, trillions of dollars have been handed to the banks and corporate profits are at record levels, as wages and social programs have been systematically attacked.

The sort of fundamental measures that would be necessary to seriously address the conditions of the working class would require targeting directly the astronomical corporate profits and the wealth of the financial elite—which both the Democrats and Republicans serve.

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