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21 States Raising Minimum Wage for New Year; 21 Still Stuck at $7.25

January 1, 2020

By Steve Wishnia

The Fight for $15 movement is making record gains in 2020.

NEW YORK, N.Y.—As the clock ticks over to a new decade, 21 states will raise their minimum wages. The 24 states and 48 cities and counties that will do so sometime in 2020 will be “the greatest number of states and localities ever to raise their wage floors” in a calendar year, according to a report released Dec. 23 by the National Employment Law Project.

More than 30 of those jurisdictions, including New York City, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, San Francisco, and Seattle, will bring their minimums up to $15 an hour or more. “The continued success of the Fight for $15 movement, demonstrated once again by the record number of jurisdictions set to increase their minimum-wage rates in 2020, should suggest to any lawmakers who continue to resist raises that their opposition is futile,” NELP’s Yannet Lathrop wrote in the report.

But in 21 states, the minimum remains stuck at the federal level of $7.25, which has not increased since 2009. Those include four of the ten most populous: Texas, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and North Carolina.

“The $7.25 an hour minimum wage only gets worse day by day for Texas working families denied by law a fair shot at getting ahead,” Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy told LaborPress via email. “Our state and our nation have taken the low road through inaction. The minimum wage should once again be a living wage.”

Seven states will raise their minimums to $12 or more on Jan. 1: Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, New York (except for $11.80 upstate), and Washington. Connecticut will follow on July 1. States with lower increases include Arkansas ($10), Florida ($8.56, by cost-of-living increase), Illinois ($9.25), Michigan ($9.65), Missouri ($9.45), and New Jersey ($11, except $10.30 for small businesses and agriculture). Oregon will raise its minimum to $12 on July 1, 50¢ lower in rural areas and 75¢ more in Portland.

Most of the smaller cities raising their minimums to $15 are in the San Francisco Bay Area. Oakland’s will go up to $14.14 by cost-of-living increase. San Diego’s will rise to $13, Denver’s to $12.85, and Albuquerque, N.M.’s to $9.35 if the employer doesn’t provide any benefits. In St. Paul, Minn., the minimum will go up to $12.50 for city workers and those at companies with more than 10,000 employees. Chicago’s will rise on July 1, to $14 at large employers, $13.50 at others, and $13 in the Cook County suburbs.

The states that have increased their minimum wages in the last several years are primarily  urban, particularly those with Democratic-controlled governments, and states with ballot initiatives, including Arkansas, Arizona, Missouri, Montana, and South Dakota. The 21 still at $7.25, most in the South and inland West, are generally in neither category.

In North Carolina, at least seven bills to raise the minimum past $7.25 bills were introduced during the 2019 legislative session, all sponsored by Democrats. None got as far as a committee hearing in either house of the General Assembly, both controlled by Republicans.

“Since 2013, the General Assembly has enacted significant tax reductions for the highest income earners in the state, yet as we’ve seen, the annual paycheck for the median worker has shrunk by $200,” Allen Freyer, director of the N.C. Justice Center’s workers’ rights project, told the Winston-Salem Journal.

Republicans argue that the free market should set wages. Amazon and other companies raising their wage floors “adds credence to the fact that a minimum-wage increase is unnecessary,” state Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth) told the Journal.

North Carolina is one of the 24 states with a pre-emption law that forbids local governments to set higher minimums that the state’s. The state’s 2016 House Bill 2, which drew nationwide protests for its ban on local governments enacting laws to let transgender people use bathrooms of the gender they identified themselves as, also prohibited them from making project-labor agreements that require contractors on public works to pay more than the minimum wage. That provision is scheduled to expire Dec. 1.

Pre-emption laws, NELP estimates, have denied almost 350,000 workers raises established by local governments, primarily in urban areas with higher costs of living and more political empathy for low-wage workers. In 2016, the Alabama legislature rushed one through to stop Birmingham’s increase before it could go into effect. Missouri’s law, enacted in 2017, voided a minimum-wage increase already on the books in St. Louis, slashing workers’ pay from $10 to $7.70. (Kansas City voters unsuccessfully defied it by passing a ballot initiative for $10.) Ohio’s law, passed during a lame-duck session in 2016, scotched a scheduled Cleveland ballot initiative for $15. The state’s 2020 minimum is $8.70.

If Texas had not enacted a pre-emption law in 2003, its four largest cities—Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio—would be very likely to set higher local minimums, as would Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

“Unfortunately, this will continue to be the case unless state legislatures repeal pre-emption and allow municipalities to set their own wage floors,” the NELP report said. 

Colorado repealed its pre-emption law in 2019. Repeal measures in 11 other states, including Georgia, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia, largely failed to make it out of committee. In New York, which doesn’t have a pre-emption law but has state court rulings with a similar effect, a bill to give local governments clear authority to set higher minimums did not get a committee hearing in either house of the Legislature.

January 1, 2020

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