Voters in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington approved minimum wage hikes that begin next year and phase in gradually over the course of the next three years. The increase will raise the minimum wage by at least 43 percent in those states, and boost the earnings of more than 2 million workers.
Washington approved the highest minimum wage at $13.50, up from $9.47, while Arizona, Colorado, and Maine voted to increase the minimum wage to $12. Currently, minimum-wage earners make hourly rates of $8.05 in Arizona, $8.31 in Colorado, and $7.50 in Maine. The minimum wage will increase gradually in all four states until 2020, at which point it will adjust for cost-of-living.
All of the minimum wage measures made it to the ballot by citizen petition, reflecting a nationwide trend toward increasing the minimum wage — even in red states like Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, which all approved minimum wage increases in the 2014 mid-term elections.
A Patchwork of Minimum Wage Rates
Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25, but 29 states have set higher minimum wages, as have 30 metro areas, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle. But some action groups think that’s not enough. The Fight for 15 movement is pushing for a minimum wage of $15 an hour for all workers.
In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama announced that he would raise the minimum wage for federal workers to $10.10 per hour by executive order, and urged Congress to do the same for all workers, with no success.
Meanwhile, many small business owners argue the raising the minimum wage would hurt their ability to hire and grow their companies. In cities like Seattle, where wage increases were phased in by business size, some franchise owners argued that they were unfairly counted as large businesses, and were therefore pushed to the rate hike faster.
Could the Federal Minimum Wage Increase?
The federal minimum wage hasn’t gone up since 2009, and seems unlikely to increase anytime soon. President-elect Donald Trump has expressed support for a $10 federal minimum wage, but seems largely inclined to leave it up to the states, while the Republican-held legislature historically has not been supportive of an increase.
However, if ballot measures like those passed in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington continue to emerge, thanks to citizen support, we might well wind up with a higher minimum wage in most places in the U.S., even without a federal increase. Whether that’s enough is a matter of opinion.
“On one hand, it makes sense to address wages locally because the cost of living can vary significantly depending on where someone lives,” Catharine Morisset, an attorney with Seattle-based Fisher Phillips, told The Society for Human Resources Management. “On the other hand, citizens—or state legislatures acting on behalf of citizens—are making changes out of frustration because the issue isn’t being addressed at the federal level.”
Tell Us What You Think
Where would you set the minimum wage, and do you think it makes sense to deal with it at a local level? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments, or join the conversation on Twitter.