Oakland congresswoman defends her push for $50 an hour minimum wage

 California Rep. Barbara Lee is not backing down on her proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $50 an hour. 

The Democratic lawmaker, who represents Oakland and much of the northern portion of Alameda County in the House of Representatives, defended her idea during a debate on Monday with fellow California Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter and former Los Angeles Dodgers player Steve Garvey. The four are competing for the Senate seat formerly held by Dianne Feinstein, who died in September at age 90.

During the debate, the second between the candidates, Lee was asked to explain how her proposal would be economically sustainable for small businesses as part of a discussion about California’s cost of living. She cited a United Way report, which found that a yearly income of $127,000 was, as she described, “just barely enough” for a family of four to get by in the Bay Area. 

“Just do the math — of course we have national minimum wages that we need to raise to a living wage, you’re talking about $20, $25,” Lee said. “Fine, but I have got to be focused on what California needs and what the affordability factor is when we calculate this wage.”

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. At the state level, California’s minimum wage — $16 an hour — is the second highest in the nation behind Washington state ($16.28). Lee’s proposal for a federal minimum wage of $50 an hour, about seven times the current federal wage, would mean any person working 40 hours a week would earn an income of $104,000 per year before taxes. 

The idea will likely go nowhere in Congress even if Lee is elected. In 2021, a year when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House, eight members of the party voted with Republicans in refusing to add a proposal that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour to a COVID-19 relief package. 

Lee may be dropping pipe dream policy proposals on purpose as she is not polling well with California voters. A California Elections and Policy Poll from Feb. 2 showed Lee trailing far behind not only her Democratic rivals, Schiff and Porter, but the Republican Garvey as well. 

The survey of 1,416 randomly sampled California voters showed Schiff as the top candidate with 25% support from respondents. Porter and Garvey were tied at second with 15% each, and Lee came in fourth with just 7% support from respondents. The results from that poll, which was conducted between Jan. 21 and 29 and had a 2.6% margin of error, were similar to findings from a Berkeley IGS poll from January that also showed Lee failing to gain more support than any of the serious contenders in the race.

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