The end of the calendar year is often looked forward to by many working people as a time when holiday bonuses and cost of living adjustments make their paychecks a little bit bigger as they head into the new year.
In 2017, however, it is the start of the new year that has many low wage workers excited as long-awaited minimum wage hikes go into effect in communities and states across the country.
In 2016, 25 states and localities approved minimum wage increases, according to the National Employment Law Project. Starting in 2017, minimum wage increases will go into effect for 19 states and 21 local jurisdictions. This represents a big win for the Fight for $15 movement and the broader labor movement as a whole, especially in an era where they will have a much less sympathetic Congress and president operating in our nation’s capital.
Many of the minimum wage increases that will go into effect in 2017 are small cost-of-living adjustments, but others represent a big shift. Arizona’s voters approved a hike of almost $2 per hour from $8.05 to $10.00 on Election Day, while Maine’s minimum wage similarly jumped from $7.50 to $9.00 per hour. During 2017, seven states (plus the District of Columbia) will have minimum wages of at least $10 per hour, including Seattle’s $15 per hour wage – now the highest in the country.
As with most things, the nationwide push to increase the minimum wage is intensely political. The momentum behind increasing the minimum wage is most attributable to the rising political clout of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), who has long been a proponent for raising the federal minimum wage. Sanders was even able to formally include this public policy action item in the Democratic platform in 2016.
Traditionally, Republicans have been of the opinion that minimum wage increases should be left up to the states and the Republican-led Congress has shown little interest in recent years to entertain the idea of increasing the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Not exactly known for his policy chops, Donald Trump has been all over the place on the issue, previously showing interest in both raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour and scraping the federal minimum wage altogether.
It’s not just partisans who squabble about the efficacy of raising the minimum wage. Economists can’t seem to agree either. Bernie Sanders was able to get over 200 economists on record stating their support for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020, while over 600 economists signed a similar letter of support in 2014 advocating for a raise in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2016. Conversely, over 500 economists warned in a 2014 letter to U.S. policymakers about the economic perils of raising the federal minimum wage.
Despite the disagreement between economists and economic researchers, reputable studies on the matter have found little evidence that raising the minimum wage is a surefire jobs-killer. To be fair, these studies have focused primarily on gradual wage hikes or under the assumption of a minimum wage hike that would be lower than $15 per hour. The preliminary evidence out of Seattle at least is that the city’s gradual phasing in of a higher minimum wage has not led to any of the wholesale declines in economic performance that minimum-wage opponents allege.
Economists and politicians alike will now have a case study (or many of them) to point to when it comes to supporting their respective minimum wage arguments. Hopefully, the end result is a more thorough, well-reasoned debate on a topic that affects the pocketbooks of many American families.
Sam was raised in our nation’s capitol and, for as long as he can remember, has always been an avid political junkie. In a former life, he worked as a staffer to a U.S. Senator. He now works as an economic development consultant in Atlanta, but moonlights as a freelance political writer as a way to scratch his political “itch.” He is a regular contributor to Political Storm.