Press Release

Senator Padilla Introduces Legislation to Create Living Wage Study and Certify Businesses as Living Wage Employers

SACRAMENTO – Last week, Senator Steve Padilla (D-San Diego) introduced Senate Bill 1049, a bill to create a program to certify and highlight businesses paying workers a living wage, one that allows full-time employees to afford a decent standard of living in the region they work. The bill also requires the Department of Industrial Relations to develop a calculation of what a living wage would be in every county of the state.

California has one of the nation’s highest minimum wages at $16 per hour, but suffers some of the nation’s highest poverty rates due to high living expenses, primarily driven by housing and childcare costs. According to United Way of California’s Real Cost Measure, 1 in 3 households in California – over 3.5 million families – do not earn enough to make ends meet. In most major markets in California, workers need to work two fulltime minimum wage jobs in order to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

The current minimum wage was set by the Legislature in 2016. However, higher than expected inflation and rising demand for housing rendered the wage outdated faster than anyone could have anticipated. SB 1049 would create program within the Department of Industrial Relations tasked with issuing certifications to business throughout the state that pay employees a living wage. These businesses certified as “Living Wage Employers” are already uplifting communities with wages that help Californians lift themselves out of poverty. By identifying their efforts, the state can better understand the economic drivers in communities.

The bill also directs the Department of Industrial Relations to develop a living wage formula by county that takes into consideration housing costs as well as food, transportation, health care, among other factors. This unique formula would be the first time the state would officially calculate wage needs to meet basic housing costs.

“The current wage standard dooms workers to around the clock labor just to make ends meet. California workers and their families should be able to afford housing in the communities that they work,” said Senator Padilla. “There are businesses already trying to better their communities with real living wages to employees. We need to identify these business and uplift their efforts as well.”

The United Ways of California, in 2023, conducted its latest bi-annual study entitled How Much it Costs to Struggle: The Real Cost Measure in California, its fifth study cataloging the costs that families face throughout the state. The study analyzes what it takes for families to meet basic needs – including housing, food, transportation, health care, childcare, and taxes – and how many families earn below that threshold in every county in California.

“When people earn a living wage, they can afford their bills, spend time with their family, and build generational wealth. Senator Padilla’s bill gets us one step closer to that stronger financial future for Californians,” said Pete Manzo, President & CEO of United Ways of California. “We know from our Real Cost Measure report that to help struggling families gain agency, dignity, and mobility – to move up – California needs a measure to point the way to a decent standard of living. Our Network looks forward to working with Senator Padilla on his Living Wage Formula Certification bill.”

“Adopting Sen. Padilla’s legislation will allow us to more easily determine a living wage for Californians to meet their basic needs, something the Real Cost Measure reviews bi-annually at a household level,” said Kevin Zwick, CEO of United Way Bay Area. “The current minimum wage does not accurately account for families’ budgets to afford housing and feed their families, and the Living Wage Formula would provide proper guidance to policymakers looking to address the issue.”

“United Way has been a leading voice on this issue for decades and I am proud to partner with them again to change the conversation of affordability in the state,” said Senator Padilla. “We need to find a solution that works for real people and elevate those that are already doing the right thing. I am confident that with the help of their expertise and leadership, we can do exactly that.”

SB 1049 will be heard in the Senate in the coming months.


Steve Padilla represents the 18th Senate District, which includes the communities of Chula Vista, Coachella, El Centro, Imperial Beach, National City, and San Diego. Prior to his election to the Senate in 2022, Senator Padilla was the first person of color ever elected to city office in Chula Vista, the first Latino Mayor, and the first openly LGBT person to serve or be elected to city office. Website of Senator Steve Padilla: