In his State of the Union address last month, President Barack Obama urged cities and states to bypass Congress and enact their own minimum wage increases. “You don’t have to wait for Congress,” he stated.
On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed the president’s advice. De Blasio announced, in his State of the City address, that he plans to ask Albany next week to give the city the power to raise the minimum wage.
The New York mayor is not the only elected official putting Obama’s words into action. Cities across the country, from New York to Seattle, are moving aggressively to confront rising income inequality and falling real wages for low-paid workers. These cities can learn important lessons from San Francisco’s bold experiments over the last 15 years.
San Francisco has now passed nearly a dozen laws to raise low-wage workers’ pay, expand access to healthcare and extend paid sick leave to every worker. These laws include living wage policies for workers at the San Francisco International Airport, on city economic-development projects and for city contractors; an across-the-board minimum wage — now $10.74 an hour; a broad paid sick leave ordinance, and an employer healthcare requirement.
These laws have brought substantial improvements in compensation and access to healthcare for tens of thousands of low-wage workers and their families. Over the last decade, as real wages for low-paid workers stagnated and then declined nationally, San Francisco stood apart. Real wages rose for the lowest-paid workers and maintained their value because of indexing in the minimum wage law. During these 10 years, the minimum wage law alone has put an estimated $1.2 billion into workers’ pockets.