L.A.'s low-wage world is made up of haves and have-nots

minwage.jpgWe all know that political campaigns are not geared for dispensing accurate information, and yet the union claims that Wendy Greuel would raise wages to $15 an hour if elected were breathtaking in their audaciousness - not to mention their inaccuracy. What the $15 refers to is a very specific effort to raise the so-called living wage of unionized hotel workers near LAX from the current $12. The regular minimum wage of $8 an hour is not changing. My question is why not. The low-wage world is a world of haves and have-nots. Those workers lucky enough to earn the "living wage" of nearly $12 an hour are pulling in several thousand dollars a year more than those getting only $8. As I point out in this week's Business Update on KPCC, that $4 difference is serious money for many families. That's why wage inequality at the low end of the income scale is arguably a more compelling issue than the rich-poor disparities we often read about. Some businesses can afford 12 bucks an hour; others can't. But in most cases, an $8 minimum is scandalous. Also this week is a look at why so much of the immigration issue is really about economics.

Steve Julian: We've talked a lot about pending immigration legislation in Washington, but if those laws are changed what might that mean for the Southern California economy. Business analyst Mark Lacter, what do you think?

Mark Lacter: Don't expect too many changes in the short run, Steve, and that might be just as well, given the dynamics of Southern California. Look, it's well established that having such a large population of undocumented immigrants helps the L.A.-area economy big time, in that it provides a large labor pool willing to accept low-paying jobs that most other workers just don't want to do.

Julian: Picking fruits and vegetables, working in restaurant kitchens -

Lacter: - or as construction workers who get hired by the day. You reported on a USC study that estimates 2.6 million people are in California illegally - about 900,000 of those folks live in L.A. County. Many of these people have been in the country for at least 10 years, and they represent some of the biggest economic success stories - even without an easy path to citizenship. (By the way, six out of 10 undocumented immigrants in L.A. County have full-time jobs, which is only slightly lower than the percentage of U.S.-born workers.) The reality is that without this workforce, the economy would be upended - low-paid jobs would go begging, and wage levels would increase, perhaps by a lot. The more relevant question is how the reform proposals might affect future migration patterns.

Julian: Naturally, most people entering the U.S. (whether legally or illegally) are looking to make better money and enjoy a better quality of than wherever it is they're coming from.

Lacter: And a few years ago during the recession, the number of immigrants coming in from Mexico and other parts of Latin America nose-dived because there were so few jobs here. Recently, the pattern began to shift because more work is becoming available. No amount of border security is going to totally end that back-and-forth pattern - and even though there are plenty of reasons for wanting to become a U.S. citizen, it only makes a difference if the economic opportunities open up. And. we're not just talking about an opportunity to be a dish washer. We're talking about the chance to buy a house, to have your kids go to college - opportunities that only happen if the job market is a lot more robust than it is right now.

More by Mark Lacter:
American-US Air settlement with DOJ includes small tweak at LAX
Socal housing market going nowhere fast
Amazon keeps pushing for faster L.A. delivery
Another rugged quarter for Tribune Co. papers
How does Stanford compete with the big boys?
Those awful infographics that promise to explain and only distort
Best to low-ball today's employment report
Further fallout from airport shootings
Crazy opening for Twitter*
Should Twitter be valued at $18 billion?
Recent Business Update on KPCC stories:
Naysaying emerges in wake of LAX shootings*
Holiday shopping: On your marks, get set... spend!
What to do with all that bad chicken?
Why it's hard to gauge progress of health care programs
Why L.A. isn't being hit too hard by shutdown - for now

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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