Voters in four states passed minimum wage increases at the polls on Tuesday, building on the momentum of over a dozen other states that in the last two years also increased their wage floors.
Beginning in January, an estimated 420,000 of the lowest-paid workers in Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota and Nebraska will see their paychecks grow. The state increases passed yesterday bring to 17 the number of states that since 2013 have opted to raise minimum wages.
Support for higher minimum wages crossed entrenched partisan divides among voters. Even as Republicans gained control of the U.S. Senate and Republican governors comfortably won elections in Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, significant majorities of voters in these states threw their weight behind the wage hikes.
Opinion polls show significant majorities of Americans support increasing the federal minimum wage, which is currently set at $7.25.
Voters in three California cities—San Francisco, Oakland and Eureka—also voted on minimum wage hikes. In Oakland and San Francisco combined, an estimated 190,000 workers will see pay increases. Eureka rejected the measure. In Illinois and counties in Wisconsin, voters supported hikes through nonbinding advisory initiatives intended to send messages to state lawmakers.
The three California cities join 10 other cities and counties that have done the same in the past two years.
Wage hike breakdown
Alaska, Nebraska and Arkansas (the state that currently boasts the country’s lowest minimum wage--$6.25) will continue raising wages in 2016 and Arkansas will increase its wage again in 2017. Alaska and South Dakota will tie the wage to inflation so that pay will then continue rise with the cost of living.
Vote: Yes 69%; No 31%
Estimated number of workers who’ll get a raise: 46,000 *
Current: $7.75; January 2015: $8.75; January 2016: $9.75
Vote: Yes 65%; No 35%
Estimated number of workers who’ll get a raise: 168,000 *
Current: $6.25; January 2015: $7.50; January 2016: $8.00; January 2017: $8.50
Vote: Yes: 59% No 41%
Estimated number of workers who’ll get a raise: 143,000 *
Current: $7.25 January 2015: $8.00; January 2016: $9.00
Vote: Yes: 55% No 45%
Estimated number of workers who’ll get a raise: 62,000 *
Current: $7.25; January 2015: $8.50
San Francisco, which currently has a minimum wage of $10.74, passed an incremental wage increase that will reach $15 an hour by 2018. The city joins Seattle, which in June passed a $15 an hour wage, as the municipalities with the highest minimum wages. Oakland will increase its minimum wages from $9 to $12 in 2015.
Eureka, California, a city of 27,000, was the single place in the country that rejected a proposed wage hike, according to initial reports.
San Francisco (CA)
Vote: Yes 76%; No 24%
Estimated number of workers who’ll get a raise: 142,000 *
Current: $10.74; May 2015: $12.25; July 2016: $13; July, 2017: $14; July 2018: $15
Vote: Yes 79% ;No 21%
Estimated number of workers who’ll get a raise: 40,000-48,000 *
Current: $9.00 (state); March 2015: $12.25
Vote: Yes NA% ; No NA%
Estimated number of workers who’ll get a raise: NA *
Current: $9.00 (state); February 2015 : $12.00
* Estimates from the National Employment Law Project.
Nonbonding advisory votes in support of local and state wage increases also garnered majority support in Illinois and a handful of Wisconsin counties.
Wage Supporters Sidestep Legislatures
President Obama and congressional Democrats this year called for an increase to the federal minimum wage, now set at $7.25. But Republicans blocked the proposals, arguing that across the board hikes would lead to layoffs. In the states, Republican-elected officials have generally resisted pressure from unions and community groups to raise the minimum wages.
Voters have increasingly taken the wage issue to the polls, sidestepping legislatures and using ballot initiatives to increase minimum pay.
“Faced with an unresponsive Congress and opposition by Republican-controlled legislatures in a number of states, Americans came out in force to vote for minimum wage increases across the country,” said Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund, which supports wage hikes. "Rare is the issue that can bring together voters in South Dakota and San Francisco.”
The shifting landscape of local support for wage increases has emerged along with a growing movement of low-wage workers calling attention to their struggles. In the last two years, fast food and retail workers have entered the spotlight as they've gone on work strikes to demand raises to $15 an hour. Their stories are often credited with providing the narrative muscle behind the state and local minimum wage increases.
A full-time worker earning the federal minimum wage earns just over $15,000 a year, below the poverty line for any family of more than a single person.