New Orleans It seems we may be involved in a protracted bit of high-low bargaining over minimum wages in the political and policy areas. The President has pushed for an increase of the federal minimum from the current $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour. The minimum wage has been frozen since the last year of the Bush Administration raising fears that Obama could be the first Democratic President since the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act to not see an increase in the federal minimum. On the other side pulling the issue forward for more than a year, fast food and other workers have been calling for a wage more than double the minimum to $15 per hour. We’re starting to get traction in some states and cities, but it’s coming in small steps not big strides, but at least it’s moving in the right direction.
Delaware has gone to $8.25 over the next year to 2015 or a solid dollar raise. West Virginia has moved to $8.75 over the next three years to 2016, which is seventy-five cents per year. Michigan just approved a bump to $9.25 by 2018 from $7.40 now, which is around forty-six cents per year, so let’s say around fifty. Minnesota hiked the minimum there from $6.15 to $9.50 by 2018, a solid eighty-four cent raise annual. Maryland and Hawaii went from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2018 a seventy-one cent per hour increase every year. Connecticut also went to $10.10 but did so by 2017 and was already higher at $8.70, so their bump was forty-seven cents or about fifty let’s pretend per hour. The District of Columbia, often the leader in these matters pushed up to $11.50 by 2016 from $8.25 to lead the way with an increase of a buck twelve per hour. Governors have vetoed increases in Maine, New Mexico, and New Jersey, but the trend line is clear, and it’s rising. The sweet spot for politicians to buckle under seems to be between fifty and seventy-five cents per hour which for lower waged minimum wage workers is something they would absolutely notice in their pay checks putting them ahead between $500 and $1000 per year, if they are fortunate enough to be working full-time. I’m not saying it’s what they would need and certainly not what they deserve, but seeing an 8 to 10% per hour increase is something no one would hand back.
There’s nothing new about minimum wage increases being incremental or in these ranges. The Clinton increases were fifty cents in 1996, then forty cents in 1997. The George W. Bush increases were all seventy cents in 2007, 2008, and then 2009, the last year there was an increase five years ago. So, the states seem to be bunching up around the same levels with some smaller jurisdictions like Delaware and DC going big and breaking the buck.
At the state level the campaigning for a high side increase to $15 per hour seems to be getting the conversation going, but politicians seem to only be moving along the same gradual levels we’ve seen in the past without any great leaps forward. We’re raising the noise level, but they’re not moving much farther than they’ve been before. Furthermore we’re not seeing much progress on indexing to inflation, creating an escalator for the minimums rather than a constant campaign, nor are we seeking much movement on the tipped wage which is still largely frozen at levels approaching twenty years ago.
We’re going the right direction, but we could be lucky at this rate to see $15.00 per hour in ten years, if the trend stays at seventy cents per hour, and at the political level, that’s still good, if we can get it, but in many places that’s still a bridge much too far for many of us to reach any time soon.