The Minimum Wage Momentum

Although the minimum wage is always an issue for state legislators, last year and this year they have been especially active. At least nine states ...
by | April 13, 2006
 

Money_2 Although the minimum wage is always an issue for state legislators, last year and this year they have been especially active. At least nine states have passed increases in that time, the most recent being Maine and Arkansas just in the past few days.

Why the support for higher minimum wages? I see at least three reasons.

* Most obviously, states are acting because Congress has not upped the federal minimum wage beyond $5.15 since 1997. Without a federal increase or indexing of state minimum wages to inflation in most places, the purchasing power of minimum wage earners has declined slowly over time, creating political pressure for an increase. Generally, whenever states are doing something -- whether it's related to immigration, climate change, health care reform or anything else -- it's a safe bet that federal inaction is one of the causes.

* Minimum wage increases are usually popular, so they make for good politics. This factor is especially relevant in election years such as this one. Even Republican governors, who might be philosophically skeptical of minimum wage increases, recognize their political appeal. For example, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed minimum wage increases for Californians each of the last two years, but this year he is pushing for one (although he and the legislature are squabbling over whether it should be indexed for inflation).

* Lastly, movements are afoot in a handful of states to place referenda to raise the minimum wage on the ballot this fall. As I've pointed out with regard to Michigan, these referenda create inevitability around increases that lead instinctive opponents to become reluctant supporters. The same scenario played out in Arkansas, where the prospect of voters approving a constitutional amendment led the business community to accept a statutory increase. You can expect more minimum wage referenda in the future, especially given that former U.S. Sen. John Edwards seems to think that his chances of being the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008 hinge on promoting these efforts.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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