WASHINGTON—More than 5 million U.S. workers will be getting a raise this January, as minimum-wage increases go into effect in 19 states and at least 21 cities and counties.
The increases will range from a 5¢-an-hour cost-of-living adjustment in Alaska to a $2 hike, to $15 an hour, for non-tipped workers at places with at least 11 employees in New York City. The minimum will reach or surpass $15 in a dozen-odd cities and towns, with a high of $16.09 in Sea-Tac, Washington—the small airport-dominated city that in 2014 became the first place in the nation to enact a $15 minimum.
The national “Fight for $15” campaign has reached that goal most successfully in the San Francisco Bay Area, where San Francisco, San Jose, Berkeley, and Richmond all now require $15, and the Silicon Valley cities of Sunnyvale and Mountain View are going up to $15.65 on Jan. 1. New York City’s limited $15 minimum also covers fast-food workers, and Seattle’s is going up to $16 at “large employers,” those with at least 500 workers worldwide.
The federal minimum wage of $7.25, however, has not been raised since 2009, and it is used by 21 states, including Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Wisconsin. The Economic Policy Institute estimated in 2017 that it had lost one-eighth of its purchasing power since 2009. To have the same purchasing power as it did 50 years ago, the EPI said, the minimum would have to be $9.90. If it had risen as much as average nonsupervisory workers’ pay, it would be $11.62; and if it had grown as fast as workers’ productivity since 1968, it would be $19.33.
In the South, 11 of the 13 states from Virginia to Texas use the federal $7.25. The exceptions are Arkansas, where thanks to the Ballot Issue 5 initiative approved by more than two-thirds of the state’s voters last November, an estimated 81,000 workers will get a raise from $8.50 an hour to $9.25, and Florida, where a 21¢ inflation adjustment will bring the minimum up to $8.46, affecting 159,000 workers.
The national “Fight for $15” campaign has reached that goal most successfully in the San Francisco Bay Area, where San Francisco, San Jose, Berkeley, and Richmond all now require $15, and the Silicon Valley cities of Sunnyvale and Mountain View are going up to $15.65 on Jan. 1.
Legislators last year blocked or reduced minimum-wage increases in at least two states and the District of Columbia. In Michigan, after supporters of an initiative to raise the minimum from $9.25 to $12 by 2022 won a court battle in August to get it on the ballot, the Republican-dominated state legislature pre-empted the vote by passing the measure as state law—and then, in its lame-duck session, delayed the increase to $12 until 2030, and repealed the provisions that would have eliminated the lower minimum of $3.52 for tipped workers by 2024. Outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder signed that bill Dec. 14.
The Washington City Council also overrode an initiative to eliminate the lower minimum for tipped workers. In June, city residents approved raising it from $3.89 to the regular city minimum of $13.25. But the City Council, lobbied heavily by the restaurant industry, repealed it just before it would have gone into effect in October.
The national tipped minimum has been $2.13 since 1991.
In Texas, the cities of San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin are all gradually raising their minimum for public employees to $15, but state law prohibits local governments from mandating more than $7.25. State Rep. Lina Ortega (D-El Paso) has already reintroduced a bill to repeal that ban; a similar measure she sponsored never made it out of committee in the 2017 session. While slightly less than 200,000 Texans, about 3% of the state’s labor force, make the minimum or less, Ortega told the Texas Tribune that “a reasonable increase, we know it would help the salaries of women, the salaries of young people as well as minorities.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has said he plans to introduce a bill that would raise the federal minimum to $15 by 2024 in the first week of the new Congress, contending it would increase pay for more than a quarter of the U.S. workforce. Campaigns are also underway to raise state minimums to $15 in Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Vermont, and to $17 in high-cost Hawaii, according to “Raises from Coast to Coast in 2019,” a report released Dec. 27 by the National Employment Law Project.
“Minimum wage increases resonate strongly with so many Americans because people feel like they’re working harder than ever but have little to show for it,” NELP executive director Christine Owens said in a statement. “Working people are struggling to pay their bills, but they see that it’s the corporations and the wealthy CEOs who are getting the tax breaks. It’s just not right. The American people believe in the value of work—and that workers deserve to be valued. That’s why there’s such strong support for raising the minimum wage.”
Voters in eight states—Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Missouri, South Dakota, and Washington—have passed initiatives to raise their minimums since 2014.