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The Definition of a Game-Changer: L.A.'s $15 Minimum Wage

Tuesday’s vote sets the bar for wage standards in the biggest U.S. cities.

Supporters carry signs to raise the minimum wage in Los Angeles as they listen to Mayor Eric Garcetti during an announcement at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park with a coalition of business, labor, community, and faith leaders from across the city on Monday, Sept. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

What began as a victory for Los Angeles hotel employees last fall has escalated into a watershed moment for wage workers citywide. After nearly a year of emotional debate, city council members Tuesday voted to boost L.A.’s minimum hourly wage from the state-required $9 to $15. Under a plan endorsed by a panel last week, the city is expected to reach the new rate through year-by-year increases by 2020, affecting as many as 800,000 workers.

Assuming the plan passes its final set of hurdles and is approved by Mayor Eric Garcetti later this year, Los Angeles will join Seattle, San Francisco, and Chicago among major U.S. cities to have recently increased the minimum wage by a significant margin. Since the beginnings of New York City’s fast-food protests in 2012, a nationwide movement has coalesced around that $15 figure, which advocates say can lift low-wage workers out of poverty and help close the country’s ever-widening gap between rich and poor. Critics, on the other hand, worry such wage increases could significantly reduce job growth.

Research in Los Angeles suggests the benefits of a $15 minimum wage there will outweigh any costs. In March, the L.A. Times wrote:

A report underwritten by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor found that raising the minimum hourly wage to $15.25 … would create an additional 46,400 new jobs across the region by 2019, including nearly 25,000 in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is the nation’s second-largest city, and boosting minimum wages there could have an influence beyond its borders. In New York City, for example, Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for increasing that city’s minimum wage to $15 by 2019.

Whether or not L.A.’s move helps hasten efforts in New York, it’s a big log in the fire burning for better minimum pay. And as the 2016 presidential election draws nearer, all of this action at the city level makes better wages an even likelier candidate for a major campaign issue.

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