California has become the first state in the nation to commit to raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour, although the increase will take place gradually until 2016 under a bill signed into law by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday.
The law raises minimum pay in the most populous state from its current rate of $8 per hour to $9 by July 2014 and $10 by January 2016. The state with the highest minimum wage currently is Washington, where employers must pay at least $9.19 per hour.
The measure won support from Democrats, passing the state Senate by a vote of 26-11 and the Assembly by 51-25. But it was opposed by many Republicans, who said it would hurt small businesses and ultimately cost some low-wage workers their jobs.
Brown, protective of California's tenuous economic recovery, had initially opposed the bill but agreed to support it after leaders of both houses of the Democratic-led state legislature agreed to postpone the effective date of the raise until 2016.
State Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who authored the wage hike bill, said the increase would help working people pay for necessities in a state where rising costs have long outpaced wage increases for the poor and working class.
"We have created a system where we pay workers less but need them to spend more," Alejo said in a statement. "That causes middle-class families to fall down the economic ladder. It's the reason our middle class is shrinking and the reason we are facing the largest gap between upper- and lower-income Californians in at least 30 years."
The minimum hourly wage in the state had stagnated after rising to $8 in 2008, but remains higher than the federal minimum of $7.25.