Minimum wage in California is going up again in 2024. Is it enough to live on?

Starting in 2024, California will have the second highest statewide minimum wage behind Washington, which is more than double the stagnant $7.25 an hour federal limit.

According to the California Department of Industrial Relations, wages are set to rise from $15.50 to $16 per hour in January. In April, starting pay for fast-food workers employed at large chains will be $20 an hour. But in a state crippled by high prices, wage experts say the bump is a slow crawl toward a livable income.

Typical expenses like food, child care, medical, housing and transportation determine the living wage or hourly rate that an individual in a household must earn to support themselves and their family’s basic needs.

Will California’s new minimum wage be enough?

Oakland resident Cynthia Martinez, 47, — whose wage will be raised to $20 an hour next year — said it won’t be enough to support herself and her child. She currently makes $19.50 an hour as an assistant manager with McDonald’s. She works a gig job on top of that.

“I have to work six days a week ... I barely have time to see my daughter,” said Martinez, a member of Fight for $15, a U.S. minimum wage advocacy movement.

The fast-food minimum wage will apply to workers at chains with more than 60 locations nationwide.

California’s average gas prices are among the highest in the country. Food prices continue to rise and residents across the state face an unaffordable housing market.

“If you’re talking about a teenager living at home then okay ... but not somebody living on their own, even single, I don’t think $16 an hour is enough,” said Dr. Paul Leigh, an emeritus professor with the Department of Public Health Sciences at the UC Davis School of Medicine.

Washington will soon hold the highest statewide minimum at 28 cents more than California, $16.28. Washington D.C. has a minimum wage of $17.

The $7.25 federal minimum hasn’t increased since 2009.

Even so, In 2022, nearly 900,000 workers across the country earned wages less than the federal minimum, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics stated.

Leigh, an expert on the effects of minimum wage on public health, said people could undergo psychological effects because of their wages.

“When you pay people really poorly ... it’s insulting,” he said.

Leigh said it could take at least four years for the California statewide minimum to reach $20.

How much is a livable wage in California?

In 2019, California reached a minimum wage of $12 for employers of 26 employees or more.

During that time, the statewide living wage for a single adult with no children was $18.66 an hour and the poverty wage was $6.13, The Sacramento Bee previously reported. The living wage for a single adult with no children in Sacramento County was $16.42 and the poverty wage was $6.13.

Whatever you could buy in 2019 with $18.66 now costs roughly $22.30, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator — a 19.5% inflation rate.

A person must earn $44,175 a year (before taxes) — or $21.24 an hour — to make a livable wage in California now, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator, which is updated annually. That number is more than doubled if you have a child and continues to increase depending on the size and composition of your family.

The MIT calculator is updated in the first quarter of each year. As of September this year, inflation was up 3.7% year over year.

A person working a full-time job with three children must earn an annual salary of $158,791, before taxes, to live a “step up” from poverty, MIT stated.

The living wage model doesn’t account for “what many consider the basic necessitates,” like unpaid time off work or takeout. Nor does it allot money toward savings, investments or medical emergencies.

“That’s not realistic,” Leigh said.

In Sacramento County, a childless adult working a full-time job has to make $39,938 a year (before taxes) — or $19.20 an hour — to stay afloat. It’s nearly $145,000 a year with three kids.

Child care alone costs $11,015 a year for one kid, MIT estimates.

What does it take to make it work?

Cynthia Martinez gets off work at 2:30 a.m. in Oakland. In a couple of hours, her daughter Ashley needs to be in school.

Drop-off is at 7:40 a.m.

Once her daughter is in school, Cynthia clocks into her part-time job as an Instacart grocery deliverer. She’s back at the school at 2:10 p.m. to pick up her 6-year-old daughter.

But the duo doesn’t go straight home.

For the next several hours, the mother and daughter hop from supermarket to supermarket while Cynthia makes another round of cash on Instacart.

Once they get home, Cynthia has less than an hour to shower and dress for her full-time job at McDonald’s. She kisses her daughter goodnight and is out the door by 5:40 p.m. to make it to work by 6:30 p.m.

Cynthia does this six times a week and doesn’t make enough money in one paycheck to pay her monthly rent of $1,500, she said.

“When people think of minimum wage, especially fast food workers, they think ‘Oh well they’re all teenagers,’ “ Leigh said.

“Most people that are working in minimum wage jobs and fast food jobs are over 20 years old.”

Next spring, the minimum wage for fast-food employees at national fast-food chains will increase to $20, according to California law. The Fast Food Council, fought and won for by Fight for $15, will have a say in wages beginning the following year.

“Honestly, I don’t think it’s going to be enough... because at the same time, everything is going up,” Martinez said.

Steering committee member Ingrid Villorio with Fight for $15 said while the upcoming wage increases are a move in the right direction for California, she knows the work isn’t over.

“How we live in California we know that our cost of living is much higher than other states,” said Villorio, who spoke with The Sacramento Bee in Spanish, using a translator for the interview.

Villorio, 42, makes $16.50 an hour as a part-time cook at Jack in the Box in Hayward. She’s also a masseuse and a home caretaker for young children with autism. Her income supports her young son as well as her aging parents in El Salvador.

“That’s why the $20 (an hour) increase will definitely help ... but we are also aware that we are going to have to continue working harder,” she said.

Starting next summer, the minimum wage will rise to $23 an hour for healthcare workers in facilities with at least 10,000 “full-time equivalent employees,” according to California law. Wages will increase to $24 in 2025 and $25 in 2026.

California expenses

Here is, in general, what basic needs costs as of December 2023. MIT’s most recent data available on groceries and child care is from 2021.


Regular unleaded gas In California costs $4.58 per gallon in California, as of Dec. 20, according to the American Automobile Association.


The MIT living wage calculator estimated annual food costs for a single adult is $4,686 in California.

The most recent data available is from June 2021.


As of November 2023, the typical value of a home in the Sacramento area was nearly $466,900, according to online housing marketplace Zillow. This is down 2.3% over the past year.

As of November 2023, The median rent for an apartment was $1,900, online rental marketplace Zumper stated. That’s 2% less than the national average.

Child care

The MIT living wage calculator estimated child care for a single adult with one child costs $12,346 a year in California.

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