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Los Angeles County officials take step toward boosting minimum wage to $15 for some workers

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LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County on Tuesday became the latest area in the country to take a step toward lifting the minimum wage to $15 an hour after officials were told it would either kill business or help lift bread-winners out of poverty.

The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to direct county lawyers to draft a proposed law that would gradually increase the base hourly wage for some workers to $15 in 2020. The board will consider the measure later this year.

The vote came a day before Vice President Joe Biden travels to Los Angeles to promote a higher minimum wage. Democrats are hoping to make increases a campaign issue in 2016.

Los Angeles County — the nation's most populous county — joined a number of counties and cities nationwide in signaling support for a higher base wage. The city of Los Angeles took the step last month. Seattle and San Francisco are also gradually raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Earlier this month in Sacramento, a legislative committee advanced a proposal that would raise California's statewide minimum wage to $13 in 2017 then tie the minimum wage to inflation starting in 2019.

The California Chamber of Commerce has said the bill would lead companies to slow hiring.

The proposal in Los Angeles County would have only a limited effect in the area with nearly 10 million people. It would apply only to scattered, unincorporated areas of the county that are outside its 88 cities, along with a slice of county workers.

Rep. Janice Hahn, D-California, applauded the vote Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, saying it would give more than 100,000 workers "more money to pay the rent, support their kids, and even put into savings."

Before the vote, dozens of opponents representing restaurants, small businesses, trade groups and chambers of commerce argued that higher wages would hurt the bottom line for businesses and might result in higher prices, reduced profits, workforce cuts or even closures.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Saturday, June 13, 2015 file photo, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, center right, joins members of the City Council and community leaders in a photo after he signed into law an ordinance that will gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to take a preliminary step Tuesday, July 21, 2015, that could lead to the higher wages. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)
FILE - In this Saturday, June 13, 2015 file photo, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, center right, joins members of the City Council and community leaders in a photo after he signed into law an ordinance that will gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to take a preliminary step Tuesday, July 21, 2015, that could lead to the higher wages. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

Supporters, including county employees and labor union officials, countered that a higher wage will keep people out of poverty.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also argued for the increase.

"Poverty is very, very expensive," Garcetti said. "When we lose billions in lost wages, when we see folks who can't support themselves, who winds up paying for it? We do."

Supervisors repeated some of the same arguments before voting.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the high cost of living in the county means the lowest-earning residents are struggling to survive.

"We're not paying people to be in the working class anymore. They are now in the poverty class" and the county effectively becomes their safety net because those workers rely on food stamps and other services, she said.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said the minimum wage requirement would put affected businesses at a competitive disadvantage, especially when some are located literally across the street from cities that don't have such requirements.

"Are you going to have businesses stay here, thrive and create jobs or are you going to have another exodus?" he asked.

If eventually approved, the hourly wage would increase in steps in the county until it hits $15 in 2020. Then, beginning in 2022, the wage would be increased annually based on inflation, according to the proposal.

Smaller companies would have until 2021 to meet the higher pay mark.

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