The minimum wage debate in California continues with a new statewide initiative proposing a raise to $12 an hour.

”I've been considering a minimum wage initiative for a while, and I figured the best way to get around the backlog in Congress would be to propose a state initiative,” said Ron Unz, chairman of Higher Wages Alliance and a proponent of the measure.

Under current legislation, minimum wage is set to go up from $8 an hour to $9 an hour on July 1, but the initiative looks to take it a step further by increasing wages to $10 an hour by March 2015 and then up to $12 an hour by March 2016.

Lost Coast Brewery owner Barbara Groom said she is all for the statewide wage increase, but at a more measured pace.

”It's going to be hard for some businesses, but overall, I think people should get a living wage,” Groom said.

Unz said part of the problem is that welfare programs have become the solution to wage issues instead of just raising wages altogether.

”Over $250 billion is spent on social welfare every year, and businesses have decided to shift the responsibility to taxpayers,” Unz said. “This initiative would put the responsibility back onto businesses, and force them to stand on their own two feet.”

Michelle Lane, assistant professor of sustainable management at Humboldt State University, said the raise -- from the workers' perspective -- would be wonderful, but the repercussions could be huge because businesses would have to raise costs.


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”This could pose a threat on the local level because, depending on the business, it could potentially make contractors bidding in other countries look more favorable because of lower variable costs,” Lane said.

In addition to the statewide initiative being proposed by Unz, there is an ordinance on the November ballot for Eureka called the Eureka Fair Wage Act, also known as the Minimum Wage Ordinance. The act would raise the minimum wage to at least $12 an hour if approved by voters, and would affect businesses with 25 or more employees.

Groom said the Eureka initiative would punish businesses like hers.

”I have over 25 workers and I will have to raise prices, and then I may lose customers to other places in that case,” she said. “I think the idea was to get larger companies like Wal-Mart, not the smaller businesses like mine trying hard to get by.”

Higher wages lead to cost increases, which are put onto the consumers, according to Unz.

”Take Wal-Mart, for example. If they were to increase their minimum wage, they would need to increase the cost of their products by 1 percent one time, and they could cover the costs of raising minimum wage to $12 an hour,” Unz said.

Ryan Emenaker, a College of the Redwoods political science professor, said there would be a concern for business owners who are already struggling.

”An increase in the price of products would then fall to consumers, but those increases will be substantially less than the percentage of increase in wages,” Emenaker said.

Lane said the short-term repercussions could be negative, but in the long-term we would get used to it and figure out a way to be efficient and competitive.

”Everyone that works for a living should be paid a living wage,” she said. “I think it's admirable and possible to pay workers $12 an hour, but I'm not a business owner, so I'm not sure. At least it's a gradual increase because it will be easier to adjust.”

Emenaker said there are two sides to the current debate on minimum wage: that it would improve the lives of those working for minimum wage and that it would decrease the number of jobs because employers will not want to hire.

”Minimum wage is not what it was in the 1960s, when the idea first came out, and the number of those making minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation,” Emenaker said.

Emenaker said the increase would positively affect workers, but also the state's coffers.

”Theoretically, more wages equal more in taxes that then flow back into the school systems, which is better for the state,” he said. 

Comparing poverty rates: How does Humboldt stack up?

California: 15.3 percent

Humboldt: 19.7 percent

Del Norte: 21.5 percent

Siskiyou: 19.6 percent

Shasta: 17.6 percent

Trinity: 17.7 percent

Mendocino: 19.4 percent

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2012