What Being Broke In L.A. Is Really Like

Some hot-button issues can seem remote. The minimum wage, however, is anything but: We all eat out and shop, and many of us have rung up registers or balanced trays ourselves. The fact is, workers earning basement wages are the scaffolding of the consumer economy, and it’s definitely not easy at the bottom rung of the workforce ladder.

In an attempt to improve the lot of L.A.’s low-wage workers, the City Council voted last week to steadily raise the minimum wage from $9 an hour now to $15 an hour in 2020. L.A. is the largest city to approve a $15-an-hour rate, although Seattle and San Francisco have agreed to move toward that wage as well, and other cities will likely join the club of $15 soon. But is it enough?

With the minimum-wage hike, L.A. is embarking on a great social experiment. It could turn out to be a huge success: Higher pay could lead to fewer poor workers and more cash flowing through the city’s economy. Or it could be a failure: Businesses could fire staff, shutter, and drive up prices to cope with the escalating labor costs. To get a better understanding of what the future might hold, we talked to Los Angeles workers earning less than $15 an hour about their thoughts on the minimum-wage increase — and we found their comments as complex as the issue and the city we call home.