How California's Big Minimum Wage Hike Could Affect Arizona

Date: April 19, 2016 Last Edit: April 20, 2016

Pressure to raise wages and a shifting workforce is just the beginning.

How California’s Big Minimum Wage Hike Could Affect Arizona

California’s minimum wage hike could affect more than just California workers—especially in areas close to the Arizona border like Yuma.

The hike, to an unprecedented $15 an hour, could force the least skilled workers out of the workplace in California and across the border to Arizona, where they can find more job opportunities, says Michael Saltsman, research director at the Employment Policies Institute in Washington, D.C.

“If you look at the metro areas that are closest to the border that California and Arizona share, you have El Centro in Imperial County [California]. It happens to be one of the poorest and most troubled metro areas of the state, with an 18 percent unemployment rate,” Saltsman says.

California’s minimum wage, currently at $10 an hour, is set to rise to $15 by 2022. Arizona’s is $8.05 an hour.

While there may be a flow of labor going both ways, Saltsman expects to see employees traveling to Arizona because they can’t find work in California.

“[Employers are] going to have to find someone who justifies that $30,000 minimum wage,” Saltsman predicts. A higher minimum wage means reduced employment for the least skilled laborers, and “employers in some of these areas who typically rely on higher-skilled employees, some of those employers may find that they have to raise their wages,” he says.

According to a University of New Hampshire Survey of 555 economists done for the Employment Policies Institute, 83 percent believe a $15 minimum wage will hurt youth employment, 76 percent think it will hurt the number of jobs available, and 80 percent feel it will cause employers to fill entry-level positions with employees offering a greater skill set.

For Arizona, job flow across the California border is just one piece of the puzzle. “There’s going to be a political impact for sure,” Saltsman says. “I think you have activist groups [in Arizona] that are hoping to capitalize on the momentum coming out of California.”

Various groups have been pushing for a higher minimum wage in Arizona, and this might add momentum to their push.

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