Where the minimum wage is rising and where the fight continues

The national minimum wage still sits at a disgraceful and unlivable $7.25 an hour, and because Trump is still stinking up the White House and business-shill Republicans have a Senate majority, that figure is unlikely to change in the next few years. But thanks to the hard work of activists and working people, the minimum wage continues to creep up in a variety of states across the country.

Since the Fight for $15 kicked off in 2012, more than 20 states and 40 cities have raised their minimum wages. In 2019, due to previously passed legislation and successful ballot initiatives in Missouri and Arkansas, the minimum wage will rise in 20 different states. Here’s a chart with an overview of the minimum wage in each state:

As you can see, the minimum wage will still be too low in many of the places where it is rising incrementally — Florida and Ohio’s minimums will rise to just $8.50 and New Jersey, one of the most expensive states in the nation, will have a minimum wage of just $8.85 due to the intransigence of the leader of the State Senate.

Meanwhile, nearly half the states are still operating with the baseline national minimum wage, including some states where the cost of living demands far higher hourly pay.

Progressives Everywhere has a look at the fight to raise the wage in a number of states, both where the minimum is stuck at $7.25 and in places where it has already been nudged up. Activists are working in each state, where different political realities pose a variety of challenges.

Pennsylvania:  The split in state government has frozen the wage at $7.25 for years. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf raised the minimum wage for state employees under his jurisdiction to $12 an hour (from $10.20 an hour) this past summer, with incremental increases each year that will get it to $15 an hour by 2024 (which is already far too slow). The Mayor of Philadelphia this fall proposed that city workers and contractors, who currently bottom out at $12.20 an hour, get small bumps until they hit $15 an hour in 2022.

There were a number of proposals in the state government to raise the overall wage, and even the GOP candidate for governor (you know, the guy who wanted to step on Wolf’s face with golf spikes) said he supported $8.75 an hour. With Democrats holding on to the Governor’s Mansion and breaking the GOP supermajority in the legislature, some movement could happen this year.

North Carolina: It confused everyone when the state legislature, controlled by the GOP with a (gerrymander-assisted iron fist), agreed to raise the minimum wage for government employees, which was $11.70, to $15 an hour. They showed absolutely no interest in raising it past $7.25 for the general public, but November may have changed the calculus a bit. Democrats broke the GOP supermajority in the State Assembly, picked up State Senate seats, and won another State Supreme Court seat, which paired with Roy Cooper in the Governor’s Mansion, could lead to some progress on the wage front.

Virginia: Gov. Ralph Northam campaigned on increasing the minimum wage from the measly $7.25, but so far, it hasn’t happened. He’s been busy trying to expand Medicaid despite Republicans holding narrow majorities in both the State Senate and House of Delegates, which has put this progressive legislation on the backburner. But with the margins so close, and Virginia Democrats cleaning up in the November elections, Republicans who want to survive next year’s state elections would be wise to show support for some kind of raise.

Illinois: Newly elected Gov. JB Pritzker says he supports a $15 minimum wage (which was vetoed by his GOP predecessor), and with a Democratic trifecta in the state, there should be no problem getting a substantial raise from the current $8.25… though the next state on this list shows what kind of realities we face, even with Democrats in power, because not all Democrats are created equal…

New Jersey: This one is frustrating because Democrats took full control of the state government in 2017 in part because they ran on a progressive minimum wage. Governor Phil Murphy has been a full-throated supporter of raising the wage, but he’s run into resistance from State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a conservative Democrat who was happy to cut pensions for teachers but refuses to raise taxes on millionaires.

Right now, the wage is rising to $8.85, which is perilously low in a state that is as expensive as New Jersey. Sweeney says he wants to raise it to $15… but also wants carveouts for teenagers and farm workers, as if their work is less valuable or they need the money less. Activists are starting to push harder — even Jane Fonda has gotten involved — and with Assembly elections coming next November, it will be a top point of contention.

New Mexico: Outgoing GOP Gov. Martinez vetoed minimum wage increases during her time in office, but Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned on raising it immediately from $7.50 to $10, taking it to $12 by 2022, then indexing it to inflation. Right now it’s slightly higher in Albuquerque, but $8.95 (without healthcare or childcare; $7.95 with either) ain’t much and doesn’t cut it.

New York: More a note than anything else, New York has a regional minimum wage difference. For large employers, the minimum wage in NYC will be $15 an hour in 2019; small (less than 10 employees) employers will be held to that rate in 2020. It will take Long Island and Westchester until 2021 to get that high, as they graduate to $12 in 2019.

Florida, Nevada and North Dakota: The activist group The Fairness Project helps local citizens gather signatures and campaign for ballot initiatives, which have proven incredibly effective in getting progressive policy passed in even the reddest states. The Fairness Project assisted activists in both Missouri and Arkansas to pass minimum wage increases via initiative this fall, and a representative from the group told CNN earlier this month that they’re targeting Florida, Nevada, and North Dakota, amongst other states, as potential places for initiative campaigns in 2020.

Florida and Nevada seem like perfect prospects. Florida, despite narrowly electing Republicans for governor and Senate, overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4, which will restore voting rights to over a million former felons who have paid their debt to society. And Nevada is now a solidly blue state, with one of the strongest labor union movements in the country. Both states have minimum wages just above the $7.25 floor, making for plenty of opportunity for big raises.

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