The federal minimum wage will not be budging from an absurdly low $7.25 an hour anytime soon—not with Republicans controlling the House and taking control of the Senate. But despite that, 2014 was a big year for minimum wage increases, many of which will be taking effect in 2015 and beyond. That's because, where congressional Republicans said no, state and local governments and voters said yes to raising the minimum wage. It's a lesson in organizing and not giving up on important legislation just because Congress isn't going to happen.
It was cities that passed the highest minimum wages in 2014—but then, Chicago alone has a larger population than several of the states on this list:
- Seattle became the first city in the United States to pass a bill raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The city won't fully phase in $15 until 2021, though workers in some businesses will get there in 2017. One of the pieces that will phase in over time is getting the tipped worker minimum wage up to the full $15.
- San Francisco voters went to the polls in November and said yes to a $15 minimum wage, which will be reached in 2018. On the same day, voters in neighboring Oakland said yes to $12.25 an hour.
- Chicago is raising its minimum wage to $13 an hour, which it won't hit until 2019. Tipped workers will go from $4.95 to $5.95, so there's one clear area in need of work.
Please read below the fold for the states changing minimum wage laws.
- Election Day was good for the minimum wage, with South Dakota and Arkansas voters approving increases to $8.50, in 2015 and 2017 respectively, Nebraska going to $9 in 2016, and Alaska going to $9.75 the same year. More than 400,000 workers are expected to get a raise because of those votes.
- Massachusetts passed an increase to $11 an hour, which it will hit in 2017. The tipped worker minimum wage will rise from $2.63 to $3.75—again, something that should be a target for further organizing.
- Speaking of states smaller than Chicago, Vermont is raising its minimum wage to $10.50 in 2018 and indexing it to inflation thereafter. Tipped workers are included in Vermont's increase, which is excellent.
- Three states—Connecticut, Maryland, and Hawaii—passed minimum wage increases to $10.10, the level sought by congressional Democrats and President Obama. Connecticut will get to $10.10 in 2017, Maryland in 2018, and Hawaii in 2018. Connecticut's tipped worker minimum wage will stay at 63.2 percent of the non-tipped minimum, Maryland's will stay frozen at $3.63 an hour, and Hawaii gets bonus points by including tipped workers (at least those who make less than $17.10 an hour including tips) in the $10.10 wage.
- West Virginia's minimum wage will go to $8.75 in 2016. Any raise is good, but needs a lot of work.
- Okay, maybe not every raise is good. Michigan Republicans raised their state's minimum wage to $9.25 an hour by 2016 in a successful effort to head off a ballot initiative that would have raised it higher.
- Minnesota's minimum wage is ... complicated. It's going up to $9.50 in 2016—for employees of large businesses. Employees of businesses with under $500,000 in gross sales will go to just $7.75 an hour, among other caveats.
- Rhode Island gets points for raising its minimum wage for the second year in a row, heading to $9 an hour. Repeat that for a few more years and they'll be cooking with gas.
- Delaware is raising its minimum wage to $8.25 in July 2015. Delaware should be able to do better.
- 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.
- In December, Louisville, Kentucky, passed an increase that will bring the city's minimum wage to $9 in 2017. It's low and slow, but it's also a southern city raising its minimum wage.
All told, a lot of America's workers got raises in 2014, are slated to get raises in 2015 and beyond, or both. Unfortunately, with Republican wins in state legislatures in November, prospects may not be as good for 2015. But there are still some ripe targets out there, from the states on this list that didn't give tipped workers raises or passed too-small increases in 2014 to cities to some states that remain under Democratic control but are still lagging. And the minimum wage successes of 2014, after a big year for the minimum wage in 2013, are a lesson to never stop pushing for what workers deserve.