By: Michael Bentley
Many people may have noticed the growing trend in increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour across the country. Seattle changed its minimum wage to $15 an hour early this year, and San Francisco is scheduled to increase their’s to $15 next year. California as a whole is even set to increase theirs to $15 an hour in 2022 or 2023 depending on the size of the employer. What may be surprising is that it is not just the big cities that are taking minimum wage into their own hands, but also smaller towns, such as Belmont, are also trying.
Belmont’s mayor, Charles Stone, is a proponent of increasing the Belmont minimum wage to $15 an hour before the whole state does. I had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Stone about his plan for Belmont and his reasoning for increasing the minimum wage.
Q: Why do you think there needs to be a high minimum wage in general?
So, let’s start with the federal minimum wage. When adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage is … less than in 1958, which is pretty scary. In California, obviously we have higher costs than almost every other state, but especially regions like ours where housing costs are insane, anything we can do to help those low wage earners that still are able to barely hang on here, I think we should. Affordable housing is a big priority of mine, but I think we need to play with the levers and knobs in addition. So that’s why I think it’s appropriate to have a higher minimum wage in Belmont say, than in Daly City.
Q: So to follow up,for high school students, like if I were to get a job, we wouldn’t care as much about getting $15 an hour. So how do you think that really fits in?
Well you know it’s one of those things, it’s hard to find a perfect policy tool. Are there going to be some high school part time employees who are taking on jobs just to get work experience who don’t really need their jobs to survive? Sure. I am not overly concerned with the fact that a few people that don’t need the help are going to be beneficiaries as well. At the end of the day, there are tens of thousands people in San Mateo County, believe it or not, that are making minimum wage. 88 percent of them are between the ages of 18 and 64. These are not teens we are talking about, by and large. And 46 percent of them are the heads of their households. So imagine, if you will, trying to afford renting a small place with your kid as a single mom, making minimum wage in one full-time job, and working a second part-time job just to keep your lights on. Those folks aren’t making decisions about what color car to buy or whether to pull out some money on a second mortgage to take a nice family vacation. They’re worrying about feeding and keeping a roof over their head and not having to move two hours away to where their job is.
Q: So let’s dive more into what’s happening in Belmont. Let’s go over what your plan for Belmont is.
Well, we’re in the midst of talking with the public, getting them aware of the issue, and also listening to restaurants and other businesses who want to give us feedback. Restaurants are affected in sort of a unique way, because they have tipped employees and California is one of a very few states that doesn’t allow a tip credit for minimum wage employees. San Mateo was the first city in San Mateo County to create a schedule to get to $15 an hour faster than the state. But if you look at the broader region Alameda County and Santa Clara County and San Francisco all have taken leadership roles. I would hope to see Belmont get to $15 an hour in 2020 or 2021. I understand we’re coming to the table a little bit later than San Mateo did, but I do want to give businesses a chance to ramp up. I would like to see a ramp up starting in July of 2018, then with escalations in January of each year until we are at $15. And then after that I would like to, like San Mateo did, increase by CPI [Consumer Price Index] every year.