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Activists Have Gathered Enough Signatures to Put $18 Wage on California Ballot

Proponents of the Living Wage Act announced that they’ve gathered over 1 million signatures to qualify for the ballot.

About 200 union workers stage a picket along the street and then in front of the entrance to Ralphs in Tustin, California, on February 28, 2022.

California voters will likely soon get a chance to vote on raising the state’s minimum wage to $18 an hour, as proponents of the proposal have gathered enough signatures for the measure to appear on the ballot this November.

On Thursday, the Living Wage Act announced that the group has begun submitting the signatures it’s gathered in support of the initiative to the California Secretary of State. The initiative has gathered over 1 million signatures, far past the roughly 620,000 signatures needed to qualify to appear on the ballot. The group behind the Living Wage Act says that labor unions and advocates played a huge role in helping gather signatures for the initiative.

Currently, the state minimum wage for employers with 26 employees or more is $15 an hour, and $14 an hour for employers with 25 employees or fewer. The state is set to raise the minimum wage for all employers to $15.50 in January of 2023.

If approved by voters, the new ballot initiative would continue increasing the minimum wage incrementally from there, until it reaches $18 an hour statewide in 2026.

California has one of the highest state minimum wages in the country, rivaled only by Massachusetts, Washington and Washington, D.C. However, advocates say that $15 an hour is not enough to live off of in the state.

“California voters have been clear: people working full time should be able to afford life’s basic needs,” said Joe Sanberg, an investor and anti-poverty advocate who is sponsoring the initiative, in a statement. “Californians simply cannot afford to support a family on the current minimum wage — which amounts to just $31,200 a year for someone working full-time. Raising the minimum wage in the Golden State is a moral imperative.”

When the initiative started in December, a living wage for a single adult with no children in California was $18.66 an hour. But now, with inflation skyrocketing, even $18 an hour may not be enough for workers in the state. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator, a living wage for an adult with no children in California is now estimated to be $21.82 an hour. That number skyrockets if the worker has children.

An $18 minimum wage is still an ambitious goal. Legislators in Hawaii have passed a $18 minimum wage measure, but few other states have set their minimum wage above $15. Further, 15 states don’t even have a state minimum wage higher than $7.25 an hour, which has been the federal minimum wage since 2009.

Polls show that the appetite in some states for a higher minimum wage is strong, however. According to polling from Tulchin Research, 76 percent of Californians likely to vote in November’s general election say that they support raising the minimum wage. Other recent polling by Data for Progress finds that a majority of likely New York voters support raising the minimum wage to at least $20 an hour, with a third of respondents saying that they think it should be at least $25.

If the initiative in California passes, it could be a signal that voters are ready to change the goalposts on the initiative for a $15 federal minimum wage. Workers have been waging the Fight for $15 for a decade now; with inflation, what was $15 then would only be worth $11.94 now. Economists say that a $15 federal minimum wage would still be a huge boon to many hourly workers — but, if the minimum wage had risen with productivity, it would actually be $31.67 an hour today.

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