The New Year Saw More States Than Ever Raise Their Minimum Wage

January 13, 2015  |  

The protests, strikes, and movement by fast food workers and other minimum wage earners have paid off. January 1st not only rang in a new year, but in more states it was also the beginning for an increase in the minimum wage. Twenty states hiked their minimum wage rates on New Year’s Day.

“With a proposal to raise the $7.25 federal minimum wage to $10.10 languishing on Capitol Hill, more and more states are choosing to bypass Congress and raise the wage floor on their own. That trend has even come to red states like Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, where voters approved various minimum wage ballot measures in the November elections,” reports The Huffington Post.

According to left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, the new raises will up the income of an estimated 3.1 million low-wage workers.  The New Year pay boosts will total about $1.6 billion in additional wages.

The states that increased minimum wages are: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. Delaware and Minnesota will follow in June and August 2015, respectively.

This is historic. “Yet as of the new year, for the first time a majority of states — 29, to be exact — will have minimum wages higher than the federal level. Many of those states have chosen to tie their wage floors to an inflation index, guaranteeing that the state minimum wage will rise over time along with the cost of living,” reports HuffPo.

The amounts vary according to the state. Washington state continues to maintain the highest minimum wage; it went up to $9.47 per hour from $9.32 hourly. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont reached or surpassed the $9 figure on New Year’s Day.

New York raised its state minimum wage a day earlier on Dec. 31, from $8 to $8.75. “Due to the state’s large population and the 75-cent increase, New York has the highest number of workers poised to benefit from this week’s wage hikes — a projected 711,000 people — of any state raising its wages this week, according to EPI,” reports HuffPo.

Progressives say the wage increases are nice, but more needs to be done to improve employment conditions and to decrease the wage discrepancy. “Raising the minimum wage is great, but it’s not going to solve the problem of massive inequality in this country,” said Jennifer Epps-Addison, a Wisconsin labor organizer, speaking at a recent AFL-CIO event. “We need a living wage for everyone.”

On that end, the AFL-CIO announced a new campaign in four states holding early presidential contests—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. In these states the labor union will push for income inequality and proposals that to raise ordinary workers’ wages.

Some politicians, such as Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren are already on board with the idea of massive pay changes.
“For more than 30 years, Washington has far too often advanced policies that hammer America’s middle class even harder,” Warren said. “Look at the choices Washington has made, the choices that have left America’s middle class in a deep hole.”Warren proposed broad reforms, such as infrastructure investment, corporate tax hikes, and trade policy. She also urged for the workers’ right to be fully paid for what they earn.

“We believe in enforcing labor laws, so that workers get overtime pay and pensions that are fully funded,” Warren said.

The White House has been pushing for a minimum wage increase. But more changes are coming. “Currently, only full-time workers who make up to $455 a week (or $23,660 a year) qualify for overtime pay, under federal labor rules that aren’t indexed to inflation and haven’t been changed since 1975. The White House is planning to move up the threshold, and liberals are pushing the administration to go significantly higher than the $42,000 level that the administration is reportedly eyeing,” reports MSNBC.

(To view specific amounts by which wages went up in each state, take a look at EPI’s data here.)

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