Wage increase ‘doesn’t mean much’

Minimum-wage workers in San Mateo County began earning $8 per hour starting New Year’s Day, a $0.50 hourly pay improvement that will barely help the small percentage of the area’s bare earners, analysts say.

A household needs to earn $47,554 to rent a one-bedroom apartment for a year in the county, according to an April report by Sustainable San Mateo County, an independent nonprofit that aims to educate residents about the county’s economy. If a person were to work 40 hours per week at the new $8 per hour minimum wage, they would earn $16,685 annually before taxes — up from $15,642 per year on the previous $7.50 minimum-wage rate.

The minimum-wage hike affects a very small amount of workers in the county, said Ruth Kavanagh, a labor market consultant for the county’s Employment Development Department. The workers in the area earning the least are hand packagers, manicurists, pedicurists, servers and food preparers such as cooks and fast-food workers, according to her department.

County Supervisor Jerry Hill is hopeful the increase will have a ripple effect on local businesses to raise their salaries for low-income workers.

“It’s a nice raise, but it doesn’t mean much for the sustainability of residents of San Mateo County,” said Hill, also a member of the county’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Adult Healthcare Coverage Expansion.

“The increase in minimum wage helps but it’s not a solution,” said Shelley Kessler, executive secretary treasurer for the San Mateo County Central Labor Council. “A lot of people still need to choose between their meals and their meds.”

Hill points out that the wage hike could help workers “cover that next rent increase coming.” From 1996 to last year, one-bedroom apartment rents in the county have gone up 49 percent, according to Sustainable San Mateo County. During that span, California’s minimum wage increased 58 percent from $4.75 to $7.50, according to the California Department of Industrial Relations.

But finding housing in a high-price market is a major issue for those who work here. Less than 58 percent of people who work in San Mateo County also live in the county, according to October research by the UC Berkeley Labor Center. More than 17 percent of San Mateo County workers live farther than San Mateo, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties, according to the labor center.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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