Joshua Wang / The Highlander

California minimum wage workers might see another wage increase as soon as 2022. Joe Sanberg, an anti-poverty activist and California native, is funding a ballot initiative to raise the state minimum wage to $18 an hour and tie it to inflation. Sanberg’s proposal, The Living Wage Act of 2022, would steadily bump up the minimum wage by a dollar per year for large companies starting in 2023, and hit $18 an hour for all workers by 2026. The ballot proposal was filed with the state attorney general’s office on Dec. 3, and I spoke with Sanberg on Dec. 13. With this wage increase, many working class Californians will benefit greatly from it

I asked Sanberg how the COVID-19 pandemic affects poverty in the state. “California has the nation’s worst rate of poverty. I think the pandemic reminded people that those that care for us when we’re sick, those who tend to us who deliver our food, when we’re staying at home because of the pandemic are also the people who make the least amount of money,” he stated.

The state minimum wage is currently on track to hit $15 an hour for all businesses by 2023, with large businesses required to pay that much by January 2022. Sanberg’s Living Wage Act of 2022 seamlessly raises the minimum wage beyond this point. He argued, “If you work full time, you should be able to afford life’s basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, transportation, health care. And that requires so much more than California’s minimum wage.”  

Something that immediately caught my eye when I first heard of Sanberg’s proposal was how it would immediately tie the minimum wage to inflation, once it hits $18 an hour — effectively preventing wage decreases over time. When asked if this would be a negotiable part of the initiative, Sanberg reaffirmed that this was an essential part of minimum wage reform. “That’s a nonnegotiable; we’ve already compromised. This initiative is a compromise. The minimum wage should be $24 right now.” Indeed, according to a 2020 CEPR study, if inflation had kept up with productivity since 1948, the current rate would be over $24 an hour. “You have to confront the political realities of building 50% plus one. And we will pass 18. We’ve extensively polled 18, and it has substantial support among Californians.”

This isn’t Sanberg’s first foray in state politics. In 2015, he put pressure on California lawmakers to legislate an earned income tax credit which would help poor Californians. After the measure passed, Sanberg founded the nonprofit CalEITC4Me, an organization which spreads awareness of the program. Now, with his sights on the minimum wage, Sanberg is committing to funding the extensive, and expensive, process of gathering signatures. When asked, Sanberg encouraged the possibility that the California legislature could pass a similar bill to his ballot proposal if it gains enough traction. “I just want to see the minimum wage increase to $18 with a cost of living adjustment built into it. And if the legislature passes, that the governor signs it into law, that’s great.”

California is due for a minimum wage increase. With the cost of living skyrocketing and many individuals reeling from the financial crisis caused by the ongoing pandemic, this type of relief is necessary for those who are struggling to get by. Rally and support must be garnered in order for this increase to happen. And although the fight will be hard, it is still a worthwhile endeavor for the safety and welfare of California citizens. 

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