A person working full-time at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour makes just over $15,000 in a year. That's below the poverty line for a family of two, and it's not changing as long as Republicans control the House. But that doesn't mean that it's something to give up on, or that nothing can change for minimum wage workers. The past year saw a call to raise the minimum wage in the State of the Union address, only to have congressional Democrats push for a bigger raise than the president had proposed. And in November, President Obama got behind Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. George Miller's bill to raise the wage to $10.10. The real action, though, the action that has already concretely changed people's lives, is at the state or even local level.
- New York's minimum wage will rise from the federal level of $7.25 to $8 on December 31, then increase to $8.75 at the end of 2014 and $9 at the end of 2015; the minimum wage for tipped workers will also increase. The state Assembly had passed an increase in 2012, only to have it blocked by Republicans in the state Senate.
- Rhode Island raised its minimum wage from $7.75 to $8 starting January 1, 2014, which is more a level it should be raised from, but yet puts the state ahead of the federal minimum wage by 75 cents, so ... better than nothing.
- Connecticut's state legislature passed and Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a law increasing the minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to $8.70 on January 1, then to $9 on January 1, 2015.
- California's minimum wage, currently at $8 an hour, will go up to $9 in mid-2014 and to $10 by 2016, thanks to a law passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
- New Jersey voters passed a minimum wage increase to $8.25 an hour and then tie it to inflation—the same day they re-elected Gov. Chris Christie, who had previously vetoed a similar bill.
- The city of SeaTac, Washington, voted to increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour. The particularly charming thing about that is that SeaTac the city includes SeaTac the airport, meaning a concentrated hub of low-wage jobs will be affected. However, the vote was close and a challenge is likely.
- Washington, DC, and two adjoining Maryland counties are raising the wage to $11.50 an hour. The combination of DC and the two counties will mean an area with a minimum wage higher than any state for an area with a population larger than that of 15 states (and the District of Columbia, it should go without saying). There's also a prospect for more in Washington—I'm told a drive by DC Working Families and other groups to put an increase to $12.50 and a raise for tipped workers on the 2014 ballot will continue regardless.
- Several states have already indexed their minimum wage to inflation, meaning that workers in those states will get a small raise at the beginning of the year. It may not help them get much ahead, but least—unlike workers on the federal minimum wage—they won't be falling further behind.
Those states, counties, and cities represent a big chunk of the American population, and a lot of workers getting a raise. Prospects are good for 2014, too. The Massachusetts state Senate has passed a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $11 and the tipped worker minimum to $5.50 by 2016, and if the state House and governor don't seal the deal, there's a ballot initiative effort already underway. Delaware appears ready to go up a dollar to $8.25. There's that ballot initiative in Washington, DC, and a push for an increase to $15 in Seattle. There are also plans for ballot initiatives in Idaho, Alaska and South Dakota.
But the best prospect of all would be Democrats getting control of Congress and increasing the minimum wage at the federal level.