With Republicans blocking a hike in the federal minimum wage, voters in five states — four of them conservative-leaning — have approved ballot measures that will gradually raise the minimum wage by an average of 24%.
Red states Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota and Nebraska all voted Tuesday to hike the wage floor above the federal minimum level of $7.25 an hour, while blue state Illinois approved a non-binding measure, which won’t immediately change the current law.
The narrowest margin of victory was in South Dakota, where the proposal to increase the minimum wage next year to $8.50 from $7.25 passed with 53% support. The largest increase to be approved was in Arkansas, where 65% of voters supported a raise to $8.50 from $6.25 by 2017.
Bloomberg Businessweek noted that the red-state votes were paradoxical “given that the standard conservative position is that higher minimum wages kill jobs by making low-skilled workers too expensive for employers to hire.”
“The current gridlock in government and failure to make significant progress on the minimum wage at the federal level has led to more activity on the state and local levels to create pressure on Congress from the bottom,” Anthony Corrado, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Bloomberg.
With Tuesday’s votes, there are now 30 states that have passed laws raising the minimum wage in recent years. President Barack Obama has proposed hiking the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, but Republicans in Congress have blocked the Democratic-led Senate’s repeated attempts to advance such legislation.
According to a Congressional Budget Office study, the proposed increase in the federal minimum wage would reduce employment by 0.3%, as employers seek to trim labor costs. It estimates the increase would affect 16.5 million workers, resulting in $31 billion in additional wages.
Experts noted that in South Dakota, Nebraska and Arkansas, the pro-increase forces faced little or no opposition. “The fact that the initiatives are passing with high margins and in very conservative-leaning states shows that the issue is overwhelmingly popular,” Arun Ivatury, a strategist for the lobbying arm of the National Employment Law Project, told Bloomberg Businessweek.
Source: Bloomberg Businessweek