Like many service workers in Los Angeles, 31-year-old Kelli Lilly struggled for years to make ends meet as a waitress. In January she left the coast for Missouri, where she moved in with her mother and eventually found a job at Amazon.
"The cost of living in Missouri is way different than in California," Lilly said in a phone interview.
She praises Amazon's announcement on Tuesday raising the company's minimum wage to $15 an hour. Starting next month, more than 350,000 annual and seasonal employees will benefit from the wage increase, according to the company.
The decision follows a tumultuous time at Amazon, where serious allegations of subpar working conditions led to a Prime Day strike in July. On that day, one of Amazon's busiest sale days, workers called for a global boycott to bring attention to a fast-paced workplace where breaks were few and far between.
The protests put the trillion dollar company in a vulnerable position.
"We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead," Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement. "We're excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us."
While Lilly is grateful for the raise and says "it'll definitely be a morale boost," she acknowledges $15 an hour is not a livable wage everywhere.
In cities such as Los Angeles, a flat rate minimum wage does not provide the same standard of living as it does elsewhere. The Economic Policy Institute's Family Budget Calculator shows that a family with two adults and two children in L.A. County needs to earn approximately $7,700 per month. This far surpasses the county's median family income, which is about $4,800 a month, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.
Rashad Ahmed, an economics PhD candidate at the University of Southern California, agrees.
"Real wages should be based off of cost of living," Ahmed said. He added this approach does present pitfalls, including a potential backlash over paying employees different wages for the same work.
A report released last fall by rental website Apartment List shows close to 60 percent of Angelenos are cost-burdened by rent, meaning that more than a third of their income goes towards housing each month.
When Lilly is asked if she would have been able to stay in Los Angeles with Amazon's $15 an hour wage, she answered with an emphatic, "No."
Even so, Lilly is optimistic: "Hopefully with this increase, more companies will realize the minimum wage needs to be increased for more people to actually be able to live."
Last fall, Target pledged to increase wages to $15 by 2020. Walmart announced an $11 starting wage in January, and in August Disney reached a deal with workers for a $15 minimum wage by 2021.
Cities are also mandating higher wages. In L.A., the minimum wage will rise to $15 for most employees by 2020.
Amazon said the company's public policy team will also begin advocating for an increase to the federal minimum wage, which has remained stagnant at $7.25 since 2009.