Samantha Medeiros is already working two jobs paying at or near the minimum wage and she is looking for a third.
The full time Sonoma State University student is trying to work her way through school entirely on her own since her parents are in no financial position to help. She's received grants and racked up about $25,000 in loans, but her meager salaries still don't pay the bills, despite working 40 hours per week as an administrative assistant at the university and promoting events to her fellow students.
Relief, however, might be on the way in the form of a bill passed by the legislature last week to hike the state's minimum wage from $8 to $10.
"If I could make $10 an hour at both my jobs, it could (help)," she said. "I wouldn't have to work so many hours; I could use it for studying and sleeping and I wouldn't have to stress out about finding a third job."
The bill would raise the state's minimum wage in two stages: $1 per hour next year and an additional dollar in 2016. It's the first hike in the state minimum since 2008, when it went from $7.50 to $8 per hour.
The boost would make California's minimum the highest in the country, passing Washington state's $9.19 per hour, but California is unlikely to keep the top spot for long since Washington's minimum is tied to the cost of living and rises automatically. California's new minimum does not include cost-of-living adjustments.
The bill passed the legislature in the closing days of its annual session. Gov. Jerry Brown has said he will sign it into law.
"The minimum wage has not kept pace with rising costs," Brown said in a news release. "This legislation is overdue and will help families that are struggling in this harsh economy."
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 and and covers about 130 million workers. Twenty-two states mirror the federal rate, but 19 others, including California, call for a higher rate. Four states set a lower rate for a minority of employees not covered by the federal rate, which includes workers at very small businesses not engaged in any interstate commerce.
Five states - Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee — have no minimum wage at all for such workers.
Business groups had fought the wage hike in California, saying it would raise costs and lead to fewer entry-level or low-skill positions, making it even harder for youths and the working poor to find jobs.
"It seems that our legislature has been ignoring the voices of small business owners around the state that now is not the time to increase costs on our job creators," said John Kabateck, executive director of the California chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business in a release decrying the vote that sent the bill to the governor.
Advocates for the hike, however, say it is merely a small measure of relief for workers suffering years of wage stagnation. Had California's minimum wage kept pace with inflation over the past 45 years, it would already be more than $11 per hour, said Marty Bennett, co-chair of the Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County.
The $2 hike "is a step in the right direction but given what we might call the incredible gap between rich and poor, it is too little," he said. "It is not sufficient."