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California poised to pass $10 minimum wage. Is now the right time? (+video)

California legislative leaders and Gov. Jerry Brown are set to raise the state's minimum wage to $10 an hour, which would be the highest in the country. Critics say it could harm a recovering economy.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / September 12, 2013

Workers and their supporters protest outside McDonald's as part of a nationwide strike by fast-food workers to call for wages of $15 an hour, in Los Angeles, Aug. 29, 2013. California legislative leaders and Gov. Jerry Brown are set to raise the state's minimum wage to $10 an hour – the highest in the country.

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

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LOS ANGELES

California is on track to raise its minimum wage to the highest in the nation.

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A bill which passed the Assembly in May is expected to win approval in the state Senate by a Friday deadline. Gov. Jerry Brown says he will sign the measure, which would raise the minimum wage in California from $8.00 an hour to $10.00 an hour in two steps: to $9 by July 2014 and to $10 by January 2016.

But debate is still raging on whether the move will endanger California’s economic recovery, with some arguing that the recovery has created the best opportunity to provide low-income people with a more livable wage.

"The minimum wage has not kept pace with rising costs," Governor Brown said in a statement. "This legislation is overdue and will help families that are struggling in this harsh economy." The last hike in minimum wage was 50 cents to $8 in 2008.

Yet the California Chamber of Commerce and others have described the bill as a "job killer," arguing that increased wages would drive up costs for business owners.

“Supporters claim this bill will help low-wage earners, but I believe it will actually hurt workers,” said Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway.

“To cover the costs of this increase, employers will have to cut hours and hire fewer workers,” she says. “Our state unemployment is still higher than the national average – the Legislature should be taking steps to create more high-paying jobs, not penalizing the people who need the help the most.”

Academics agree this is a fragile time for the action, but some say the opportunity shouldn’t be missed.

“There never is a good time to raise living wage issues, but this is as good a time as any,” says Barbara O’Connor, director emeritus of the Institute for Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. “The budget is balanced, we have a rainy day fund, and workers have not seen an increase to compensate for the recession and rising costs. It is time to make this part of the fiscally prudent grand bargain.”

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