Opinion newsletter: Much ado about a minimum wage

Opinion newsletter: Much ado about a minimum wage
Maria Elena Durazo, president of the national labor organization Unite Here (center left), hugs Alma Romero, a housekeeper for 15 years, while celebrating the L.A. City Council's tentative agreement to raise the city's minimum wage to $15 per hour on May 19. (Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I'm Paul Thornton, The Times' letters editor, and sadly, no one voted for a raise for me this week. It is Saturday, May 23, and here’s a look at the last week in Opinion.

Good news, Los Angeles: About 800,000 people who work here will likely get a raise, courtesy of the City Council. Its members voted this week to boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2015, up from the current $9.

The bad news: There are 800,000 men and women in Los Angeles who make the minimum wage, and many of them badly need help to lift themselves out of poverty. For that, L.A. will need more middle-class-expanding, $30-per-hour jobs. Oh, and what about affordable housing?

Says The Times’ editorial board:

The City Council's decision Tuesday to raise the minimum wage to $15 in Los Angeles was hailed as a major step toward easing the strain of poverty among the city's low-wage workers. And it may well be. The state's current minimum wage of $9 an hour just isn't enough to live on in a high-cost city. The new wage, which will be increased annually until it reaches $15 in 2020, will give some 800,000 men and women a raise that will help them cover the expenses of housing, food, transportation and other essentials.

But what will really help struggling Angelenos is more jobs that pay higher than the minimum wage, and more opportunities to move up the career ladder. L.A. needs more $20- and $30-an-hour jobs that truly lift people out of poverty and provide a larger tax base to pay for the services and infrastructure that improve the city's quality of life. Without growth in higher-wage jobs, L.A. has done nothing but make itself more attractive to low-wage workers and less attractive to businesses that would hire them.

It was quite evident even before Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed raising the minimum wage that mandating a pay hike isn't enough to solve L.A.'s poverty problem. The mayor and the City Council should be doing everything possible to attract and retain businesses that provide solid middle-class jobs.

Yet eight months after Garcetti's initial proposal, we're still waiting for city leaders to articulate a clear, comprehensive strategy for job creation. There are various efforts and some successes, but not a citywide vision for economic development that is embedded in the city budget and ingrained in every department's mission. (The closest version is Garcetti's recently released sustainability plan, which sets targets for creating “green jobs.”) We're still waiting to see how L.A. is going to help create more housing, which is essential because companies won't expand here if their workers can't afford to live here.

And we'd like to see a plan for how the city can assist industries and employers that struggle with the transition to the higher minimum wage.

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When a city of L.A.'s size raises the minimum wage, it gets attention, both good and bad. The New York Times' editorial board likes what L.A. did, and says other jurisdictions should follow our lead. On Slate, Jordan Weissmann is more pessimistic, warning that L.A. is undertaking a huge experiment.

Closer to home, The Times (of Los Angeles) has covered the wage increase from multiple angles on its opinion pages. Read an editorial that considers competing proposals for L.A. here, an op-ed that doubts the efficacy of a higher wage here, another op-ed that calls for special treatment for restaurants here, and letters from readers opposed to and in favor of the City Council's action here.

The Obama administration released details on what it calls "Bin Laden's Bookshelf" this week, and The Times' Opinion section made the late terrorist leader's reading list. This column from 2005 was among the trove of reading materials seized from Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan in 2011: "Is Al Qaeda Just a Bush Bogeyman?"

Jeb Bush flubbed the one question he should have had the perfect answer for, Jonah Goldberg says, suggesting a major problem with his presidential campaign: Bush isn't the inevitable nominee, and he needs to stop acting as if he is. L.A. Times

If you think Los Angeles is fickle, wait until you read this piece by Las Vegas' own Penn Jillette. There, he says, they build things, admire them as landmarks, and then blow them up – and call it art. L.A. Times

Here’s a stark reminder that while California has it pretty bad water-wise, much of the country is also in a drought. Cynthia Barnett, the author of three books on water, says we should stop calling it the “California drought,” because it’s really America’s drought. L.A. Times

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