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Crunching the numbers

A $50 minimum wage would result in a total income of around $104,000 over the course of a year — and believe it or not, that still doesn’t meet the median income in certain parts of the Golden State.

Lee cited 2023 data from the California Department of Housing and Community Development which found that people who make $104,000 per year and live alone in San Francisco, San Mateo or Marin counties, were considered low income households in 2023.

In the same three counties, a one-person household making $65,250 was considered very low income, those making $39,150 were considered extremely low and people making $18,400 per year were acutely low income.

The senate candidate balked at how a six-figure income is “barely enough to get by” in certain parts of California and she blamed it on “the affordability crisis.”

San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin all rank in the top 10 most expensive counties to buy a house in the US, according to the Zillow Home Value Index.

Rental costs are also sky-high in those areas. According to Zillow, the typical monthly asking rent in the San Francisco metro area is $3,295, which is 65% higher than the national median. To comfortably afford that — without spending more than 30% of your income on housing — a person or household would need to bring in around $10,983 per month, or $131,796 per year.

When justifying her proposed $50 minimum wage, Lee said: “I have got to be focused on what California needs and what the affordability factor is when we calculate this wage.”

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The minimum wage debate

Not all of the candidates vying for California’s open Senate seat — to replace the late Dianne Feinstein — agreed that such a dramatic minimum wage increase is needed.

In fact, Steve Garvey (R) — a former MLB star for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres — argued the “minimum wage is where it is and should be.”

He brought up the state’s contentious new fast-food law (AB 1228) — signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 28, 2023 — that will hike fast food workers’ wages up to $20 an hour, starting April 1, 2024. That is $4 higher than the Golden State’s current minimum wage of $16.

“That’s going to increase costs for hard-working Californians to go to a franchise,” Garvey argued. “Instead of a Big Mac for $9, it’s going to be $15.”

Rep. Adam Smith (D) clapped back: “You want to know why people are living on the street? It’s because we’re paying them poverty wages. Try to find a house anywhere in California when you’re earning minimum wage.”

He added, “We have to raise people’s incomes, we have to build a lot more affordable housing and ground services for people who are homeless. We can do this, we’ve demonstrated an approach that works.”


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About the Author

Bethan Moorcraft

Bethan Moorcraft


Bethan Moorcraft is a reporter for Moneywise with experience in news editing and business reporting across international markets.

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