SANTA CLARITA, Calif. — Preparing orders is one of the many responsibilities that Jesmir Lopez has as an employee at Tamales Express in Santa Clarita. It's how she helps her parents make ends meet. Both of them are disabled.

"Since I was a kid, I always saw them struggling and my goal has always been to help them out just like they helped me out as a kid," Lopez said.

She said the minimum wage increase that took effect in California this month makes all the difference for families like hers. 

What You Need To Know

  • The minimum wage in California is now the highest in the country

  • On Jan. 1, 2022, the minimum wage in California went up to $15 an hour

  • The new law applies to employers with 26 or more employers

  • For employers with less than 26 employees, the minimum wage is $14 an hour

On Jan. 1, the minimum wage went up from $14 an hour to $15 for businesses with more than 26-employees. For 25 or fewer employees, it went up from $13 to $14.

"You know, people always say, 'What's a dollar more? What's a dollar more?' But a dollar more does add up to somebody who works a minimum wage job," Lopez said.

Her bosses and the owners of Tamales Express have already been paying about 80% of their employees above minimum wage. Yesenia and Romualdo Barrera said that due to the minimum wage increase, the majority of their employees also would get a raise even if they already make above minimum wage, such as Lopez, who makes $15.50.

"If we pay them a little bit more than minimum wage, they work better for us, a good paid employee is a good employee in general," Romualdo Barrera said.

His wife Yesenia added, "I feel like if you don't pay the employees well, there's always another opportunity that will pay them better." 

But Cherie McGraham, who owns Smokehouse on Main in Old Town Newhall, said the increase comes when she's trying to recover from the effects the pandemic had on her restaurant. She said she's constantly losing employees because bigger companies are able to offer higher pay and more incentives.

She said as a result, "you have the other employees having to work double shifts, and now you're paying overtime on that higher hike… so that's where it gets to you."

McGraham expects the minimum wage increase to raise her payroll each month by at least $3,000.

As for Lopez, she's not sure how much more she'll make, but even a dollar an hour more means an extra $160 a month. She said the pay increase "makes us feel like we mean something to the company."

Lopez also said it also means she won't be looking for another job anytime soon.