Minimum wage has momentum in the states and the House — but Republicans stand in the way

Minimum wage has momentum in the states and the House — but Republicans stand in the way
Gage Skidmore

Every year that the federal minimum wage stays at $7.25 an hour, I think this will be the year when movement in the states and cities dries up. And 2019 was not that year. The federal minimum wage has made history, going the longest without an increase since 1938, the year the law was created. Now that it’s controlled by Democrats, the House of Representatives tried to do something about it, passing a $15 minimum wage bill—but the Republican-controlled Senate won’t even hold a vote on it and Donald Trump wouldn’t sign it.

This year brought more reminders of how important it is to raise the minimum wage, with a major study of more than 130 minimum wage increases finding, in short, that the main Republican talking point is false: raising the minimum wage does not kill jobs. Does not. The slew of recent state increases has also failed to produce the dire effects predicted by Republicans. Other studies have found that a higher minimum wage improves quality of life in a range of ways, even reducing suicides and lowering recidivism among recently released prisoners. So there’s no real excuse for Senate Republicans and Trump to stand in the way—but when have they ever needed an excuse other than sheer hatred of low-income people?

New Jersey passed a $15 minimum wage law, with most workers to reach that level in 2024. It will then be adjusted for inflation annually. Tipped workers won’t get much of a raise, going from $2.13 an hour to $5.13, and farm workers will only get to $12.50 in 2024. But it’s progress the state could only get by replacing Chris Christie with Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, and it’s real progress: Pay for most workers rose from $8.85 to $10 an hour in July and will go to $11 on January 1, 2020. The state is the third-largest to pass a $15 minimum.

Illinois came next—with a bill that moves even more slowly, getting to $15 in 2025. Workers there will get their first raise on January 1, going from $8.25 to $9.25, then to $10 on July 1 and rising by $1 every January 1. The tipped minimum wage will be 60% of the total. Chicago and Cook County already have significantly higher minimum wages—and Chicago recently put itself on the path to $15 in 2021—but for the rest of the state, this is another of those steps forward you get when a Democratic governor replaces a Republican one.

Maryland still has a Republican governor, but its Democratic legislature overrode his veto to become the third state to pass a $15 minimum wage law in 2019 alone. Maryland’s law won’t be fully in effect until 2026, when workers in establishments with fewer than 15 employees will get there, and tipped workers, once again, will be left behind. Still. Republican governor. The law will give 573,000 workers a raise, according to the National Employment Law Project.

New Mexico only raised its minimum wage to $12, which it will reach in 2023. Workers will get their first raise, from $7.50 to $9, with the coming of the new year. The tipped minimum wage will rise a truly pathetic amount, from $2.13 to $3. The state’s previous Republican governor vetoed minimum wage increases to even $9, while current Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned on $12.

Connecticut had a $10.10 minimum wage, but it’s raising it to $15, giving more than 330,000 workers a raise. The state’s tipped minimum wage won't go up to the full amount, but is currently at $6.38 and lawmakers have debated legislation to improve the situation for these workers. The minimum wage went up to $11 on October 1 and will rise $1 a year until it hits $15 in 2023.

Nevada only raised its minimum wage to $12 an hour, $11 for employers that offer insurance, and it won’t get there until 2024. But hey, that makes six states to raise their minimum wages in 2019, and that’s 300,000 Nevada workers getting a raise (eventually).

Denver, Colorado, is raising its minimum wage from $11.10 now to $15.87 in 2022, at which point it will be indexed to inflation. That change came through a unanimous city council vote.

As always, credit for all of these minimum wage increases goes to the low-wage workers who started this fight, insisting that the $9 or even $10.10 being proposed by Democratic lawmakers was not enough.


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