Skip to content Skip to footer

$18 Minimum Wage May Soon Be on the Ballot in California

Progressive activist Joe Sanberg has pledged to fund the signature campaign to get the initiative on the ballot.

Joe Sanberg speaks at a press conference at LA County + USC Medical Center on April 14, 2020, in Los Angeles, California.

Progressive activist Joe Sanberg has filed a ballot initiative in California to raise the minimum wage in the state to $18 an hour, potentially signalling that organizers in the nearly decade-long Fight for $15 movement are changing the goalposts.

The Living Wage Act of 2022 was filed with the California attorney general’s office last week, as first reported by the Los Angeles Times. Sanberg, an early investor in Blue Apron and founder of CalEITC4Me, which helps eligible Californians enroll for the Earned Income Tax Credit, has vowed to fund a campaign to gather enough signatures to get the initiative on the ballot in November of next year.

The bill filing comes just as the state is set to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour for large businesses, starting in January. The wage increase will extend to all businesses in 2023 — right when the Living Wage Act, if passed, would kick in and begin gradually raising the minimum wage to $18 an hour across the board. After that, the wage would continue to rise as the cost of living in the state increases.

Sanberg has long advocated for a higher minimum wage. At least once a week, he tweets about a figure from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which shows that the federal minimum wage would be $24 if it had kept up with productivity since it was established in 1968 — though some economists on the left point out that the minimum wage would actually be nearly $32 an hour if inflation is factored in.

“If you work full time, you should be able to live with full financial security, and that’s not the case in California,” Sanberg told the Los Angeles Times. “We were a leader in pushing for a $15 minimum wage, but now we have to move the ball forward and farther. It’s overdue for $18.”

Indeed, California has been at the forefront of the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15, a longtime goal for labor advocates and the New York fast food workers who began the Fight for $15 in 2012.

But, according to the MIT living wage calculator, a living wage in California for a single adult with no children is $18.66 an hour — meaning that even $15 an hour isn’t a living wage in the state. A living wage for an adult with one child, meanwhile, is $40.34 — or about $84,000 a year, a far cry from the roughly $31,000 a year made by full time workers with a $15 wage.

The $18 an hour wage would come closer to a living wage for the state, though it’s likely that inflation will push up the cost of living by the time the wage is implemented. Still, it’s closer to a living wage than $15 an hour.

California’s minimum wage has been increasing since 2016 and is currently $14 an hour for big companies and $13 an hour for small companies.

“The job will be done when everyone who works full time can afford life’s basic needs,” Sanberg told the Los Angeles Times, pointing out that the minimum wage should be closer to $24 hourly.

On Twitter, Sanberg noted that the minimum wage disproportionately affects people of color. “Too many in CA — including essential workers -– are paid so little, they can’t afford life’s basic needs. Because of systemic inequity baked into the state, workers of color are much more likely to be paid poverty wages,” he said. “It’s time for a change. We’re raising the wage to $18.”

Nina Turner, a progressive who recently ran against Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio) for Brown’s seat in the house, tweeted in support of Sanberg’s initiative on Monday. “It’s unacceptable that millions of minimum wage workers in our country can’t afford life’s basic needs,” she wrote. “True wage justice means *every* worker can live a life of dignity. In places like California, $15 isn’t enough. Will do all I can to make this a reality.”

A critical message, before you scroll away

You may not know that Truthout’s journalism is funded overwhelmingly by individual supporters. Readers just like you ensure that unique stories like the one above make it to print – all from an uncompromised, independent perspective.

At this very moment, we’re conducting a fundraiser with a goal to raise $40,000 in the next 6 days. So, if you’ve found value in what you read today, please consider a tax-deductible donation in any size to ensure this work continues. We thank you kindly for your support.