Labor Center

Living Wage

Labor Center Reports

Living Wage Overview

Living Wage Resources

Living Wage Overview

In California, 2 million workers live in families whose incomes remain below federal poverty standards. They are the working poor: they work hard, follow the rules, but cannot cannot make ends meet a system where the value of the minimum wage continues to erode. The purchasing power of the of the federal minimum wage is now 30% below what it was in 1968.

Throughout the nation, a growing number of city and county governments have sought to address this crisis with innovative policies. Since 1993 more than 100 cities and counties — 15 in California — have passed “living wage” ordinances. These measures mandate that government service contracts go only to firms that pay workers a specified minimum compensation level. While the wage level varies among regions, the stated goal is to insure that workers receive a livelihood that allows a full time worker to provide food, housing, health care, child care, and basic transportation for themselves and their families. These policies prevent the use of taxpayer dollars to subsidize employers that pay poverty wages and they encourage firms to compete for city contracts on quality of service and productivity, rather than with lower labor costs.

The Labor Center and our colleagues at UC Berkeley have conducted a series of studies to assess the economic impact of living wage initiatives on the workforce in California.

Photo by Jennifer Borrow

Photo: Jennifer Borrow


  • According to the California Budget Project, in 2001, the basic family budget for a two-parent family where both parents work is $12.51 an hour; for a single parent family it is $ $20.89 an hour.
    California Budget Project (2003) "Boom, Bust and Beyond: The State of Working California."

  • According to a recent ILE study, the living wage raise to homecare workers in San Francisco could have reduced the number of people in San Francisco living below the poverty line by as much as 15%.
    Howes, Candace (2001) "The Impact of Unionization and the Living Wage Ordinance on the IHSS Homecare Workers in San Francisco County."

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