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Workers Push For A Living Wage

As Congress and the White House duke it out over a proposed raise in the minimum wage that's tied to tax cuts, workers in several American cities are fighting for more extensive increases in pay for low-skill workers.

CBS News Economics Correspondent Ray Brady reports the opponents of the campaign for a so-called “living wage” are business owners who complain they’re getting squeezed by higher wage costs.

Some 41 cities and counties already have passed living wage laws, and another 80 jurisdictions are reportedly considering similar changes.

Living wage laws require firms that do business with the city—or get any kind of financial break—to pay workers what the city considers a living or prevailing wage.

The dollar amount of the living wage varies from place to place. In San Jose, Calif., one of the highest, it was set at $9.50 an hour.

Advocates for workers say a living wage is needed because in a time of unbridled prosperity, the wages of the lowest-rung of American workers have remained stagnant. The actual purchasing power of the minimum wage, for example, has been in decline for decades.

Said Los Angeles activist Madeline Janis-Aparicio, part of a coalition of church people, unions and others pressing cities and counties everywhere to increase worker pay and benefits, "We want to raise the standard of living of thousands of working families."

"There's a tangible difference in people's lives when they go from $5.15 an hour with no benefits to $7.50 or $8.65 with health benefits,"she said.

One of Janis-Aparicio's targets is Los Angeles restaurant owner Henry Berber. Workers want Berber to pay them two to three dollars more per hour.

Cities With A Living Wage
Baltimore
Boston
Dane County, Wis.
Des Moines
Duluth, Minn.
Gary, Ind.
Jersey City, NJ
Los Angeles
Milwaukee
Minneapolis
New Haven, Conn.
New York City
Portland, Ore.
Santa Clara County, Calif.
San Jose, Calif.
St. Paul, Minn.

But for Berber, whose business sits on city land, the living wage means higher costs.

"And that's not something you can just, you know, sweep under the rug," Berber told CBS News. "It's gonna be a terrible burden for a lot of businesses."

That burden on businesses, critics of the living wage contend, could cost poor people their jobs by forcing cash-strapped employers to cut staff.

Living wage supporters fault that logic.

"People say that to us all the time and I as them, 'Well, would you favor a 50 cent minimum wage if the market said, well someone should earn five cents an hour?'" said Janis-Aparicio. "I mean, we have to have some values in this country."

In Baltimore, where the living wage became law five years ago, Aurelia Wilson couldn't agree more. A school bus aide and a widow supporting two grandsons, she welcomed the raise.

"It has helped me to be independent. I don't have to get on welfare. I can take care of myself and my two grandchildren," said Wilson.