New senator’s first order of business: Calculate living wage for Californians

Hosted by

“When you start losing people because they're working really hard, but they can't live here, something's fundamentally wrong,” says State Senator Steve Padilla of California’s recent record population losses. Photo by Shutterstock.

California’s $15.50 minimum wage is one of the highest in the nation, but not enough in pricey LA or even most places in California. The question of what’s enough to live on — is behind a new bill put forward by freshly minted State Senator Steve Padilla. SB 352 requires officials to calculate how much people need to earn to pay for basic needs in each of the state’s counties. 

“I think you have a really powerful tool, potentially, to start to make some intelligent policy,” says Padilla, who hails from Chula Vista and represents parts of San Diego, Imperial, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties. 

“Maybe we look at some of the qualifying threshold standards for some of our social safety net programs. And maybe instead of being a national standard that included places like Kansas or Alabama, it's specific to California and linked to a housing wage. Maybe there are ways to work with very large-scale employers … so that they could guarantee that everyone in their workforce would be paid a housing wage, instead of just the minimum wage.”

Padilla recognizes that his plan may have critics, but thinks “knowledge is power” when it comes to combating California’s wage inequities. 

“Everyone should be concerned about the situation as it is, including the business community. Because we're losing workforce, we're losing folks that could have their skills developed, their education increased, their labor be more marketable. If only they weren't working 90 hours a week and still treading water,” Padilla shares. 

“I really want to think about how we can help folks be partners with the business community to help develop our workforce in a way that keeps them competitive and marketable,” Padilla says. “And that people who work hard can meet their basic needs and grow from there and prosper. That's the social contract. And it's not working for a bigger and bigger segment of our workforce in California. And we can do better than that.”