Human Capital & Careers

State’s Rights: Many Lift Minimum Wage

While Congress fiddles, the states are raising the minimum wage.
Stephen TaubAugust 1, 2006

More than one dozen states have either hiked the minimum wage above the current federal level of $5.15 per hour, or have ballot initiatives calling for raises in the November elections, according to Reuters. “The minimum wage needs to go up,” Denver Williams, director of operations for Labor Connections in Kansas City, told the wire service. “People can’t make a living, even on $8 an hour.”

The House of Representatives on Saturday approved a measure that would raise the national minimum wage in three 70-cent steps, to $7.25 per hour, by mid-2009, according to Reuters. But, as is generally the case with a hotly contested bill, the hike was tied to another controversial piece of legislation—this time, a cut in estate taxes—which is opposed by Democrats.

The Senate is expected to take up the measure this week.

Opponents of the bill argue that a higher minimum wage will hurt businesses and job growth. Supporters simply say it is overdue, since the minimum wage has been held at $5.15 per hour since 1997.

Recent polls have found that more than 80 percent of Americans favor at least a $2-per-hour increase in the minimum wage, noted Reuters. Altogether, about 1.9 million workers earn at or below the minimum wage, according to the wire service, citing the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report noted that most of these people work in service-oriented jobs, such as waitresses.

Earlier this year, Maine, Delaware, and Rhode Island lifted their minimum wage levels even though they already were above the federal minimum, according to Reuters. Michigan also raised its minimum wage, to $6.95.

Last month, legislators in Massachusetts agreed to raise that state’s minimum wage to $8 from its current $6.75. Governor Mitt Romney, who is reportedly planning to run for president as a Republican, vetoed the measure Friday, but the bill was unanimously overridden.

Meanwhile, minimum wage increases will be on ballot initiatives this November in Arizona, Montana, and Nevada, according to the wire service. In addition, Missouri, Colorado, and Ohio lawmakers also are working to push through minimum wage increases on ballots in their states.

In California, the Democrat-controlled legislature and Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed that the $6.75 minimum wage should be lifted to $7.75 an hour, added Reuters. Now, they are debating whether to link hikes to the inflation rate.

Some states avoided a ballot initiative. Arkansas, for example, canceled its initiative after its legislature voted to lift the minimum wage to $6.25 an hour, effective in October.