With increased awareness of the challenges faced by low-wage workers, support for a higher minimum wage is spreading across parts of the country. Earlier this year, President Obama called on Congress to increase the federal rate to $10.10 per hour, but the proposal was blocked.
In the recent midterm elections, voters in four states took matters into their own hands, passing referendums to increase the minimum wage in Arkansas, Alaska, South Dakota and Nebraska.
- In Alaska, the current minimum wage of $7.75 will increase in 2015 to $8.75 and in 2016 to $9.75. The rate will be tied to inflation and increase with the cost of living. The referendum passed 69% – 31%.
- In Arkansas, the referendum passed 65% – 35%. The current minimum wage of $6.25 will go up to $7.50 in 2015, $8.00 in 2016 and $8.50 in 2017.
- In South Dakota, the current minimum wage of $7.25 will increase in 2015 to $8.50. The rate will be tied to inflation and increase with the cost of living. The referendum passed 55% – 45%.
- In Nebraska, the referendum passed 59% – 41%, and current minimum wage of $7.25 will increase to $8.00 in 2015 and $9.00 in 2016.
The federal minimum wage currently stands at $7.25 per hour and has not increased since 2009.
A full-time worker earning the current minimum wage brings home just over $15,000 per year, which is below the federal poverty line for a two-person family, according to a report from the White House.
The report also shows that 88% of people who would be affected by a minimum wage increase are 20 years of age or older – and 36% are 40 or older.
Seeing no action on the federal level, a number of states and the District of Columbia have set higher minimum wages on their own. Some did so through their legislatures, while others used ballot initiatives to let voters decide.
The 2014 election results increased the number of higher-minimum-wage states to 17. And, municipalities from Seattle to Santa Fe have also taken action to increase the minimum wage within their city limits.
Despite broad public and presidential support, a raise in the federal minimum wage is anything but a foregone conclusion. Republicans blocked efforts earlier in 2014, citing concerns about widespread layoffs.
However, after the success of the referendums in conservative states like Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota and Nebraska, plus the looming 2016 elections, lawmakers in both parties may be will be able to closer examine the federal minimum wage.