State Watch

Record number of states raise minimum wage

Millions of low-wage workers are starting the new year with a pay increase as new laws take effect in dozens of states and cities across the country.

Minimum wages rose in 21 states and 35 cities and counties at the new year, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP). Two of those states — California and New York — increased the minimum wage to $15 an hour for employees of large corporations. 

The number of states raising minimum wages this year is higher than any previous year. The hikes come a decade after fast food workers went on strike across the nation, kicking off a campaign to increase wages to at least $15 an hour.

That campaign has raised wages for 26 million workers, according to NELP data. The group, which supports raising the minimum wage, estimated that the hikes have directed $150 billion in additional pay to those workers. 

“These record increases are the result of underpaid workers organizing, demanding, and winning higher wages,” wrote Yannet Lathrop, a senior researcher and policy analyst at the think tank. “This movement has not only led to the adoption of higher state and local minimum wages but has helped seed new worker activism and mobilization across our economy.”

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Workers in several states are seeing their wages rise gradually, up steps laid out in legislation or ballot initiatives approved by voters in previous years.  

In Maryland, workers saw minimum wages rise on Jan. 1 to $12.20, for those who work at small businesses, or $12.50 for those employed by larger firms, a step on the way to a $15 minimum wage by 2025. New Jersey workers will hit the $15 hourly wage by 2024 to 2027, depending on the size or type of business for which they work. In Rhode Island, a $15 minimum wage will kick in by 2025. 

Eight states increased minimum wages that are tied to cost-of-living adjustments. The lowest-paid workers in Arizona are seeing their pay rise this year from $12.15 an hour to $12.80; Colorado workers will earn at least $12.56 an hour, up from $12.32; and workers in Michigan will earn at least $9.87 an hour, up 22 cents over the previous level. 

The city of SeaTac, Wash., home of the international airport that serves Seattle, maintains the highest minimum wage in the nation. Employees there, most of whom work at the airport, earn at least $17.54 an hour, up 97 cents over last year. Seattle employees of large businesses and smaller businesses that do not offer medical benefits will earn at least $17.27 an hour, the highest minimum in a major city.

Workers in 26 California cities will see their paychecks increase. Those in the tech hubs of Mountain View and Sunnyvale will make at least $17.10, and those in Belmont, Cupertino, El Cerrito, Los Altos, Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Jose, San Mateo and Santa Clara will all make north of $16 an hour.

Minimum wage workers in Connecticut, Florida, Nevada, Oregon and 22 cities — including Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and the Twin Cities — will see wages rise at some point later this year, most on July 1. 

The wage hikes come amid a national labor shortage as more workers quit their jobs in search of better conditions. An estimated 11 million jobs were vacant in October, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

To combat the worker shortage, dozens of corporations large and small have announced their own minimum wages that are far higher than those required by state law. Companies like Universal Studios Orlando, the Henry Ford Health System, the Santa Fe Animal Shelter, Amazon and Best Buy have all announced higher wages; so have health systems and universities across the country, from the University of Kentucky and Rice to Tulane and Johns Hopkins.

Tags Minimum wage

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