California will be the first state in the nation to vote on the $15 minimum wage touted by labor activists after the proposal qualified for the November ballot.
Backers of the $15 minimum wage announced on Tuesday evening that they had surpassed the 400,000-voter threshold to qualify for the ballot. The move was welcomed by leading California Democrats, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“California has often been the incubator of ideas and policies that spread across the country—this initiative fits that mold and will make our state the leader in the fight against income inequality,” Newsom said in a release shared by the Service Employees International Union, the chief architect of the Fight for $15 movement.
The campaign in California was supported by The Fairness Project, a pro-union group that focuses on “ballot-initiative campaigns that seek to raise the minimum wage” in light of activists’ inability to pass a federal minimum wage increase. Executive Director Ryan Johnson said that he hopes to replicate the group’s success in California in other states.
"California made a major breakthrough for economic fairness when it qualified a statewide initiative for the November ballot to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour,” Johnson said in a release. “A higher minimum wage will boost the California economy. We hope this spurs many other states to follow California’s lead.”
Young people in California have had a harder time finding work than their peers across the nation, a problem experts say may grow if the wage hike passes.
Nearly 17 percent of Californians between the ages of 18 and 24 are unemployed, according to the California Workforce Association. Several California localities, including Oakland and San Francisco, have already passed substantial wage hikes.
Michael Saltsman, research director of the Employment Policies Institute, said that voters in California should avoid following the example of Bay Area and Silicon Valley denizens.
“California's cities have already experienced the unintended consequences of extreme minimum wage increases,” Saltsman said in an email. “The rest of the state should learn from real stories of closed businesses and lost jobs in the Bay Area, as well as the accumulated academic evidence proving that the fight for $15 is a fight against common sense."
Policy experts are not the only ones who have voiced objections to the $15 minimum wage. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton endorsed a $12 minimum wage because she feared that the $15 wage touted by her competitor, socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., VT), would hurt jobs.
The news out of California was the second victory of the day for wage activists. Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser flip-flopped on the $15 minimum wage during her State of the District address on Tuesday after expressing skepticism about a ballot initiative months earlier.
“An hourly minimum wage of $11.50 will only stretch so far. Low wages create an invisible ceiling that prevents working families from truly getting a fair shot,” she said. “When the Council returns from its break early next month, I will send legislation to the Council to increase our minimum wage to fifteen dollars by 2020.”
Saltsman said that Bowser’s 30 percent wage hike from the existing minimum wage of $11.50 would exacerbate youth unemployment levels that are more than twice as high as the national youth unemployment rate of 12 percent.
“The District's youth unemployment rate is averaging a shocking 30.8 percent. When nearly one out of three young people who want to work can't find it, it's time to reevaluate current employer mandates—not to create new ones,” he said in a release. “Mayor Bowser’s planned $15 minimum wage might be good politics, but it's terrible economics.”