State may consider minimum wage increase |

State may consider minimum wage increase

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Taco Bell is just one of many South Shore businesses that hire employees at minimum wage.

Taco Bell Manager Maria Janez doesn’t know how her workers make it on minimum wage, which is $6.75 in California.

“Especially in Tahoe – they have to get two jobs,” she said.

The Tahoe Daily Tribune found through interviews that some residents need three, four or even five jobs to live on the South Shore. Most of the positions fall into retail and hospitality, with many paying just over minimum wage. In an informal survey, the bulk of the low-income jobs pay between $7 and $8 an hour.

The trend is not new to other areas of California, and Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-San Jose, wants to do something about it. The lawmaker has re-introduced a bill, AB1835, to raise the minimum wage by $1 to $7.75 in two tiers. The first increase of $7.25 would go into effect next year, and the remainder would be implemented in 2008. By 2009, the wage would be set by the Consumer Price Index.

The minimum wage in California was last raised by 50 cents in 1999. Congress rejected an increase in the federal government’s $5.15 hourly rate.

To put it in perspective, the federal poverty level is $16,090 per year, which equates to $7.53 per hour. In California, an employee working full time would make $14,040 a year at the current rate.

A report called “Making Ends Meet” that was recently released by the California Budget Project showed a single adult renting a studio apartment and paying for basic necessities would need to make at least $10.40 hourly to get by. The public policy group studies wage and living standard trends in the nation’s most expensive state.

Lieber has tried twice before to raise the wage here, but she acknowledges this time the political climate seems different. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who vetoed her last bill, pledged in his State of the State address that he’d like the wage to go up.

The idea was not favored before by the California Chamber of Commerce, which has shared concern about the hardship on business trying to pay to keep its work force employed.

Some businesses may feel the impact of the raise in the wage.

“At $7.75, it would hurt,” said Duncan Sennott, who owns Sno-Flake Drive In. Still, Sennott called $6.75 “a ridiculous wage.” He pays the majority of his seven staffers $7 to $7.50 an hour. If the minimum wage goes up, he’ll have to either lessen the hours of his employees, lay off a person or “as a last resort raise prices” at his South Lake Tahoe burger joint on Harrison Avenue.

Lieber’s minimum wage bill is expected to make its way before a policy committee hearing by spring.

Even if this bill is signed into law, Lieber said it won’t go far enough to help a growing segment of the population finding it harder to live in the Golden State.

“Increasing the minimum wage is not going to be a livable wage. They will still have to get other forms of community assistance. This is not something that allows a family to be self-sufficient,” she said. “But $20 a week is still an increase.”

Agreeing was Carolyn Robinson, who works in the Job One Employment Resource Center.

“It appears in Tahoe that most people make more than the minimum wage. But with the price of gas, rent, food and car insurance, people making $15 an hour have a hard time making ends meet,” said Robinson.

El Dorado County, which has a labor force of 92,400 people in its 173,407 population, reported to the state’s Employment Development Department that its highest wage was paid out to dentists at a mean of $85.74 per hour. Dentists are followed by surgeons. EDD has no breakdown by county or city of specific wages.

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