Gauging the Benefits of a Living Wage in L.A.

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Maria Mosqueda at LAX i

Maria Mosqueda, center, at work at Los Angeles International Airport, where she operates wheelchairs. Photos by Neva Grant, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Photos by Neva Grant, NPR
Maria Mosqueda at LAX

Maria Mosqueda, center, at work at Los Angeles International Airport, where she operates wheelchairs.

Photos by Neva Grant, NPR
Aida Guirgis and her daughter Marianne i

Aida Guirgis, right, and her daughter Marianne. After a divorce, Guirgis was left to raise three children on welfare. Now, with a higher-wage retail job at LAX, she is off government support and out of debt. hide caption

itoggle caption
Aida Guirgis and her daughter Marianne

Aida Guirgis, right, and her daughter Marianne. After a divorce, Guirgis was left to raise three children on welfare. Now, with a higher-wage retail job at LAX, she is off government support and out of debt.

L.A.'s Living Wage Law

Date of Passage: May 1997

 

Firms Subject to Ordinance:

• Service contractors

• Firms that operate concessions, such as retail shops, on city property

• Firms that lease city property, such as airport terminals

• Firms that receive $1 million or more per year in economic development subsidies

• Subcontractors of the above firms

 

Wage Level: $10.33 per hour currently, indexed to increase annually

 

Health Benefits Differential: Employers can choose to pay either the higher wage ($10.33), or a lower wage ($9.08) with a $1.25 contribution to employee health benefits. The health benefits differential is not indexed.

 

Paid Days Off: 12 per year, pro-rated for part-time employees

 

Unpaid Days Off: 10 per year, pro-rated for part-time employees

 

Sources: Examining the Evidence: The Impact of the Los Angeles Living Wage Ordinance on Workers and Businesses, ACORN

A few years ago, many of the low-wage salespeople at the Los Angeles International Airport would have been known as the working poor. They were paid minimum wage and rarely earned enough to afford the souvenirs and small luxuries they sell at LAX.

In 1997, Los Angeles became one of the first cities in the country to pass a living wage law. It raised pay and benefits for those who work for the city or for businesses that contract with the city. Now, entry-level jobs at the airport start at $9 or $10 an hour.

Maria Mosqueda's job operating wheelchairs at the airport helped her qualify for a loan to buy a house big enough for her and her husband, three sons, two daughters-in-law and a baby grandson.

Dozens of municipalities — and some states — have raised hourly wages above the federal minimum. Many others are considering it. That movement has been driven by a simple — and controversial idea: to bring working people out of poverty, pay them more.

Opponents of living wage measures say the ordinances hurt job creation, especially for lesser-educated, low-skilled workers. And for some workers, a higher paycheck could mean losing other forms of support, such as Medicaid, special tax breaks and foods stamps.

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