Living wage mandates legislate minimum hourly wages that are considerably higher than minimum wage rates. Since 1994 living wage ordinances have been passed and, in varying degrees, implemented in over ninety-five local governmental entities in the United States; among them are twenty-one California cities. The author presents a summary of the living wage ordinances in California, including their wage mandate levels and their coverage. He discusses how the minimum wage and the federal poverty standard have failed to keep up with increased living costs, especially in California’s cities, and reviews arguments for and against living wage policies. The author also surveys older academic studies on minimum wage and living wages and then discusses a new generation of research studies on the impacts of living wages. This new set of studies, which includes detailed analyses of Los Angeles and San Francisco, provides a more careful and complete understanding than was previously available. Using before-and-after surveys of employers and workers and more sophisticated methodology, they reveal that living wage policies increase pay for their intended beneficiaries without creating disemployment effects. Living wage policies also reduce employee turnover and absenteeism and improve worker performance, thereby creating some employer savings in the short run and generating incentives for productivity growth in the long run. The policies’ costs to employers and taxpayers are considerably smaller than some have projected. The author concludes by discussing recent developments in living wage campaigns that may lead to greater impacts in the future.
Citation: In The State of California Labor 2003, Ruth Milkman, ed. 199-226. Cleveland: Brothers Printing Company. 2003.