States Pave the Way For Higher Minimum Wage

During his State of the Union speech this year, President Barack Obama called on the U.S. Congress to raise the federal minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. In doing so he also took advantage of his own executive powers to increase the rate to $10.10 for federal contractors. A federal bill that would extend this benefit to all workers around the country, U.S. S 460, has not seen movement in the Democratically-controlled Senate in nearly a year.

To date, 21 states and the District of Columbia have a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage, though none higher than the proposed rate of $10.10. These range from a low of $5.15 in Georgia and Wyoming to a high of $9.32 in Washington. While prospects look dim for federal action on the issue, the President’s high profile endorsement will undoubtedly bolster the resolve of many states looking to push the issue in light of federal inaction. Currently, legislation relating to the minimum wage is pending in Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and West Virginia.

Not all states have waited for federal cues to take action on this issue. In California, AB 10, which increases the minimum wage to $9.00 this July and again to $10.00 in 2016, was signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown last September. New Jersey voters also pushed through a $1.00 increase to $8.25 this past November at the polls, snubbing Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s recent veto of a bill that would have done the same. This initiative puts New Jersey among the few states that tie their minimum wage to an economic indicator, in this case the Consumer Price Index, meaning that the wage has the potential to increase or decrease on a yearly basis. Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington also have similarly progressive minimum wage statutes. Alabama also has pending legislation that would do the same, though the bill is unlikely to see much movement in the GOP-dominated state legislature there.

Not all states are on board. There has been little action in the South as well as Republican-leaning Midwestern states. Republican Governors in Maine and New Mexico recently vetoed bills that would raise the rate in those states. Mississippi took the unusual action last year of barring counties and municipalities from establishing their own mandatory minimum wage, with HB 141. Five states currently have no codified minimum wage and instead follow federal rules. Among these is New Hampshire, which abolished their minimum wage in 2011. However control of that state’s legislature has shifted so drastically over the past several years there is potential a change in the Granite State.

The debate is only likely to get hotter with gubernatorial and legislative elections scheduled for November. While Democrats may see the issue as a potential key in campaigning, Republican candidates will likely continue in their opposition to these policies.