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Oakland: Study Says Minimum Wage Increase Would Help City's Economy

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Friday June 13, 2014 - 11:49:00 PM

Raising Oakland's minimum wage to $12.25 an hour would help the city's economy in addition to boosting the income of more than one-fourth of its workers, economists at the University of California at Berkeley said today.

Speaking at a briefing at Oakland City Hall, Ken Jacobs, chair of the university's Center for Labor Research and Education, said 48,000 people would receive a wage increase either directly or indirectly if a minimum wage measure that's expected to appear on the ballot in November passes.

Jacobs, who helped write a report on the measure, also said 56,700 workers in Oakland who currently don't get paid sick days would start getting them if voters approve the measure. 

The minimum wage legislation is being proposed by the Lift Up Oakland Coalition, an alliance of community, labor, small business and faith organizations. 

Michael Reich, a UC Berkeley economist and director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, who also helped write the report, said, "A citywide minimum wage can help make the economy more equitable without harming economic growth. That's more money in low-wage workers' pockets for a healthier city and a healthier economy." 

The study says that the proposed wage increase would result in total increased worker earnings of between $115 million and $126 million a year and estimates that the hourly wages of workers affected by the change would increase by up to $1.76 and hour and up to $2,832 per year. 

Rosen said the measure would significantly impact what he described as Oakland's "workers of color," who are black Hispanic and Asian. 

He said they make up between 58 to 66.5 percent of Oakland's total workforce but represent between 75 percent and 83 percent of workers who would be impacted by a minimum wage increase. 

Rosen said the study concludes that such a wage hike would only have a minimal impact on local businesses, estimating that operating costs for retail businesses would go up by just 0.3 percent and restaurants would see operating costs increase by 2.8 percent. 

He said restaurant prices would increase by 2.5 percent, meaning a $10 meal would cost another 25 cents. 

The Oakland proposal, if passed, would take effect in March 2015 and would provide additional increases tied to inflation. 

John Jones, a security guard at the Burger King restaurant in downtown Oakland, said a wage increase would significantly improve his life because he currently doesn't have enough money to meet all of his expenses and his PG&E service was cut off today. 

Jones said he can't afford curtains so he uses a blanket to cover his windows. He said the result is, "I freeze during the winter." 

Rosen noted that Berkeley and Richmond also are considering minimum wage increases and San Francisco is expected to have a ballot measure in November that would boost its minimum wage to $15 an hour.