The new year is looking like a good one for minimum wage workers.
In November's election, voters in four states approved ballot measures increasing the lowest wage permitted by law. It could mean incremental pay raises for more than 2 million workers over the next four years, according to the Fairness Project, which supported the initiatives.
In 18 states, workers will begin the year with higher minimum wages thanks to legislation passed in 2014 and 2015, or to automatic increases tied to the rising cost of living.
Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia now have set their hourly minimum wages above the federal level of $7.25. Two states--Georgia and Wyoming--have minimums below that, at $5.15 per hour. California and Massachusetts have the nation's highest state minimum wages, both at $10 per hour. Some cities have set their own hourly minimums, and Emeryville, California, currently has the nation's highest: $14.82.
The minimum wage is a perennially contentious issue at the federal level. Would an increase reduce poverty or increase it? Would it boost productivity or force businesses to cut jobs? Would it lessen income inequality or put young workers at a disadvantage? The list of questions--all defying easy answers--goes on. There's been no change in the federal wage in seven years. The states and some cities, however, are responding with their own approaches, reflecting regional variations in job markets and cost of living.
Minimums Go Up
In the last three years, minimum wages have increased beyond cost of living adjustments in 21 states.
Year federal minimum wage was established
States that enacted minimum wages for women and minors before the federal one was set
25cents an hour
First minimum wage
State with the first minimum wage law (covering just men) in 1938
Times Congress has increased the federal wage