As Bay Area cities see minimum wage increases, some push for more

Infographic depicting new wages in the Bay Area, accompanied by brief explanations.
Flora Huynh/Staff

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Numerous cities in the Bay Area saw their minimum wages increase as of Jan. 1, providing low-income workers with a boost to their earnings.

The statewide minimum wage increased to $15 per hour for large employers and $14 for small employers, according to a Department of Industrial Relations press release. Meanwhile, some local jurisdictions that opt for a higher minimum wage saw an annual inflationary increase take effect with the new year.

In Oakland, the minimum wage increased from $14.36 to $15.06; El Cerrito saw its minimum wage jump by $0.76 to $16.37; and Richmond’s minimum wage increased from $15.21 to $15.54, according to each city’s website. Berkeley’s minimum wage is currently $16.32 and is set to receive its annual inflation adjustment in July, according to the city of Berkeley website.

“Workers at all levels need to be paid wages they and their families can live on with dignity and stability,” said City Councilmember Sophie Hahn in an email. “We are a very wealthy region and a wealthy nation; the problem is that wealth is not fairly distributed among those who create it.”

Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center, said in an email that researchers have found that increasing the minimum wage improves the racial income gap, workers’ mental health and parents’ participation in the workforce.

In response to concerns that raising the minimum wage could have negative economic effects, Jacobs noted evidence shows minimum wage laws have not increased unemployment and may have a minor effect on prices.

“We have seen small price increases as a result of higher minimum wages in the restaurant industry, where many of the workers earn close to the minimum wage, and wages are a relatively high share of operating costs,” Jacobs said in the email.

Minimum wage laws, however, do not measurably increase prices across the entire economy, he added.

Jacobs noted differences in minimum wages across California ultimately come down to discrepancies in the cost of living and politics.

“Urban coastal metro areas have a higher cost of living than northern and inland regions of the state,” Jacobs said in the email. “They also tend to have more progressive political coalitions with the power to enact such laws.”

Before the state legislature passed legislation in 2016 to raise the minimum wage to $15 for all employers by 2023, local governments were the first to raise the minimum wage to $15, Jacobs noted.

Now, some are pushing for an even higher minimum wage.

In December, the Living Wage Act of 2022 ballot initiative was filed with the state attorney general’s office to raise California’s minimum wage to $18 per hour by 2026. Jacobs said the initiative seems “reasonable” given last year’s increases to cost of living and wages.

Locally, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín expressed openness to increasing the city’s minimum wage above the level adopted in 2016.

“Despite our efforts workers are still not making enough to survive in our city,” Arreguín said in an email. “I always believed that the Minimum Wage we approved was a floor and not a ceiling, and I am committed to exploring adjustments to bring it closer to a living wage.”

Contact Gabe Classon at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @gabeclasson.