A majority of Los Angeles County supervisors want to consider raising the minimum wage for county residents and employees, joining a growing number of local governments in the region.
Officials in the city of Los Angeles are considering raising the current $9-an-hour minimum wage to $13.25 by 2017 and $15.25 by 2019. After the release last week of a trio of studies examining the economic effects of those proposals, county Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis plan to ask their colleagues to commission a study of similar wage increases in the county.
The analysis would look at raising the base wage for all businesses in county unincorporated areas, where about 1 million people live, as well as for county employees and contractors.
Some analysts have said that the city's proposed increase would lead to business flight unless surrounding communities approve similar increases. Several other neighboring cities, including West Hollywood and Santa Monica, are considering following Los Angeles' lead.
Kuehl's proposal, which will probably be considered by her colleagues next week, would commission the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. to analyze the city's minimum wage studies and examine how the findings might apply to the county.
Kuehl said she thinks the county needs to increase pay for low-wage workers, but that more study is needed to determine the right amount.
"If you simply grab a number and enact something, you could hurt the city, and that hurts the workers, or you could hurt the county, and that hurts the workers," she said. "The number has to work for the county, period. But if we were part of the movement to raise the minimum wage, that covers almost half the people who live in the county.... It could be a real signal to the rest of the state that we are serious in this county about the benefits of raising the minimum wage."
Solis and Kuehl were elected last year with strong union support. But Solis said in a statement, "The key question for me is how a minimum wage increase would impact small businesses in my district."
It was not immediately clear how many people working for businesses in unincorporated areas might be affected.
As for county employees, only about 5,000 of the county's nearly 100,000 employees — including student workers, library and animal shelter aides and laundry workers — make less than $15.25 an hour now, but there could be a ripple effect of increased wages for higher-paid county workers if the bottom wages are increased, Kuehl said.
Three studies of the city wage proposal released last week reached divergent conclusions. A study by Beacon Economics commissioned by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce concluded that an increase to $13.25 would dramatically slow job growth and provide "at best, modest benefits" to low-income residents. Another report commissioned by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and completed by the nonprofit Economic Roundtable concluded that the increased wage would create tens of thousands of new jobs across the region, increase tax revenue and reduce spending on public assistance.
A third study completed by UC Berkeley researchers at the behest of the city found that the move would slow job growth, but that the overall economic benefits to the region would exceed the costs.
Gary Toebben, president of the chamber, said the county's decision would have a significant effect on the region's economy.
"What we're talking about would be discussions that would have an impact on businesses in approximately 10% of the county," he said.
Although the chamber has opposed the city proposal, Toebben declined to weigh in on the potential economic effects of a county wage increase. The Economic Development Corp. staff, he said, "are highly regarded economists, and I look forward to seeing their assessment."
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that he welcomes Kuehl's proposal: "The county proposal is a big vote of confidence in our effort to reduce poverty and create broader economic prosperity throughout our region, and will add momentum for other Southern California cities to join us."
The move was also praised by Laphonza Butler, co-convener of the Raise the Wage Coalition and president of Service Employees International Union-United Long Term Care Workers, which is separately trying to negotiate a boost to $15 an hour for about 140,000 workers who provide home care for local elderly and disabled people.
"Hopefully we'll all see something happen in the region that brings families out of poverty across governmental boundaries," she said.
Separate from Kuehl's proposal, Ridley-Thomas and Solis want to study the effects of increasing wages for home care workers to $13.25 and $15.25. The home care workers, who make a minimum of $9.65, are negotiating a new contract with the county-appointed Personal Assistance Services Council.
"All of these issues are interconnected," Ridley-Thomas said. "But the fundamental question is how we provide for a decent quality of life for the employees of the county of Los Angeles, whether they are contractors or not, and how we seek to advance efforts to reduce and eradicate poverty."