California considers raise to $7.25 an hour

If the minimum wage rises in California, Damian Ramos may consider crossing back over the state line.

The South Lake Tahoe husband to Catalina and father of 2-week-old Celeste works as part of the cleaning crew at the Horizon Casino Resort on the Nevada side, where he makes $7.25 an hour.

In January, the minimum hourly rate may go up to that amount from the current $6.75 if California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, has her way. A year later, the wage would rise to $7.75.

In Nevada, minimum wage is $5.15.

The bill - introduced in February - passed the California Assembly May 26, with Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, voting no. It now sits in the California Senate.

Damian would like to see the minimum wage go up. When he worked in California, he made $6.50 an hour.

"I'm lucky because the house I rent is owned by a friend," Ramos said, adding he pays $550 a month.

But life gets tougher when one accounts for a single income coming in, the high price of food, the cost to ride the bus and having no health insurance for baby checkups. That would cut out $200 a month from his paychecks. Forget the luxuries. The couple may go to the movies four times a year, and they can't afford cable television.

"That's life in Tahoe," he said. "Money isn't everything, but you have to have it."

He likes Tahoe's serene environment and beautiful scenery. "It's a good place to raise a family," he said.

But to make it here, moonlighting may be the order of the day. Like others he knows, Ramos will take on more jobs if he can keep up his energy.

When asked how his friends get by with higher housing costs, he replied: "I don't know."

One of his friends sympathized.

"They have to do something with the minimum wage," said Maria Toledo, a South Lake Tahoe woman who makes $10 an hour working half the week for her sister's cleaning company. Before that, she worked in a grocery store for $7 an hour.

The minimum wage was last raised by 50 cents in California in 1999.

With the cost of living going up rapidly in California, Lieber said, the current salary threshold "has become the ghetto for immigrant workers."

But from a business standpoint, many companies would find it difficult to dent their budgets by paying out higher wages, South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Duane Wallace said. The board has taken no formal action on the subject. But in a classic dilemma, Wallace believes the business community - already struggling to survive - would buckle under the pressure of making expenses.

"It would make it tough to stay competitive, and if business weren't here, people wouldn't have jobs. It's a double-edged sword, but we've got to be reasonable about this. This is probably not the time to be doing this," he said.


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