Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

Those who will benefit most from Tuesday's minimum wage victories are the workers who will actually see raises, though they aren't to the living-wage level that some activists have been pushing for. (Photo: Steve Rhodes/flickr/cc)

Minimum Wage Measures Pass Overwhelmingly, Even in Red States

'Now thousands will get a raise and begin to make a fair wage.'

Deirdre Fulton

Measures aimed at raising the minimum wage passed overwhelmingly in the five states where they appeared on Tuesday's ballot.

The largest margin of victory as of Wednesday morning was in Alaska, where Ballot Measure 3 won by 38 points, with 68.6 percent voting yes and 31.3 percent voting against the initiative. Measure 3 will raise the state’s minimum wage by $1 in 2015 to $8.75 an hour, and another dollar in 2016, to $9.75 an hour. After that, it will be adjusted for inflation but always be $1 higher than the federal minimum wage. Now that the measure has been approved, Alaska will have one of the highest minimum wages of any state in 2016.

Issue 5 also passed handily in Arkansas, with 65 percent voting in favor and 35 percent opposed. The referendum proposed gradually raising the minimum wage—currently set below the federal minimum of $7.25—from $6.25 to $7.50 per hour on January 1, 2015, then to $8.00 per hour on January 1, 2016 and finally to $8.50 on January 1, 2017. On their Facebook page, the organization Give Arkansas A Raise Now thanked voters and said: "Now thousands will get a raise and begin to make a fair wage."

In Nebraska, proponents of Initiative 425 raised more than $1.2 million, making it the most expensive of the minimum wage campaigns. The measure, which will incrementally raise the hourly wage to $9 by January 1, 2017, passed 59.2 percent to 40.8 percent.

"Nebraskans universally share the value that 40 hours of work each week should be enough to afford the basics and care for your family," state senator Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, who initially introduced a bill to raise the wage in the state legislature, told the Omaha World-Herald.

Lincoln senator Danielle Conrad, the Initiative 425 campaign director, told the paper: "We made history. Raising the minimum wage is an issue that unified Nebraskans."

Success was only slightly less resounding in South Dakota, where Initiated Measure 18 still won by 8 points, with 54.7 percent voting yes and 45.3 percent voting no. The proposal would increase the state minimum wage from $7.25 to a new level of $8.50 an hour in January, after which it will be indexed to inflation. The measure, sponsored by the South Dakota Democratic Party, as well as some labor unions, will also raise the hourly wage for tipped employees from $2.13 to $4.25.

Voters in Illinois also indicated their support for a higher minimum wage, by voting overwhelmingly in favor of a non-binding advisory question that asked voters whether they support increasing the hourly wage to $10 by January 1, 2015.

And in California, two cities voted to raise their minimum wage. San Francisco on Tuesday became the second U.S. city to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour. In Oakland, a measure passed that will raise the wage from $9 to $12.25 starting in March.

On a night that was depressing for Democrats and progressives, these victories—four of them in red states—provided glimmers of hope.

"The minimum increases won’t improve prospects that Congress will pass President Barack Obama’s proposed federal increase to $10.10, up from the current $7.25," Marianne Levine and Timothy Noah write for Politico. "But if Congress, as expected, fails to act, these four state victories may help push the Democrat’s 2016 presidential nominee to call loudly for an increase, as Obama notably did not in 2012."

They continue:

But the minimum wage wins also provide some solace to Democrats in an election year that gave them little. Republican candidates, usually opposed to increases in the minimum wage, were pressured into shifting their positions in key races. Alaska Senate candidate Dan Sullivan, Arkansas Senate candidate Tom Cotton, Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner and Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson, all Republicans, ended up coming out in favor of state wage hikes.

Arun Ivatury, senior campaign strategist for the National Employment Law Project Action Fund, predicted that Republicans won’t help themselves in 2016 if they continue to oppose the federal increase. “They’re going to create enormous headwinds for themselves,” he said, “if they’re seen as the party that opposes the minimum wage.”

Those who will benefit most from Tuesday's minimum wage victories are the workers who will actually see raises, though they aren't to the living-wage level that some activists have been pushing for. 

But "minimum wage alone cannot solve the issue of income inequality," contributor Erik Sherman writes at Forbes. "Shortened work weeks prevent low-wage workers from getting ahead because, even at higher rates of pay, they cannot generate enough income. Second jobs may be impractical if both employers demand first access to workers’ time. Furthermore, the high-deductible health insurance plans that low wage workers can afford leave them in danger of economic catastrophe in the face of a serious illness."

Sherman continued: "Even so, votes for increased minimum wages were a clear win for low-wage workers and the unions that have been backing campaigns to raise the numbers. With 28 states now supporting minimum wages higher than the federal level, pressure on Congress will increase, while states with lower figures could find themselves economically uncompetitive for workers and, therefore, businesses."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Scientists to BlackRock Vice Chairman: New Fossil Fuel Development 'Incompatible' With 1.5°C

"The only responsible course of action is to do everything in our power to stop fossil fuel expansion and further emissions."

Jessica Corbett ·

Goldman Prize Awarded to Activists Who Showed Nature's 'Amazing Capability to Regenerate'

"While the many challenges before us can feel daunting, and at times make us lose faith, these seven leaders give us a reason for hope and remind us what can be accomplished in the face of adversity."

Julia Conley ·

Faith Leaders Call for Federal Election Monitors in Georgia to Protect Black Voters

"It is imperative that our election this November is monitored to preserve ballot integrity and ensure ballot security."

Brett Wilkins ·

'Inaction Is Bought': Here Are the Receipts on NRA's Purchase of GOP

"The issue is money in politics," said Nina Turner after the nation's latest mass killing of students and teachers. Right-wing lawmakers are "allowing children to die because of the gun lobby."

Kenny Stancil ·

'This Is on You!' Beto Interrupts Abbott Press Conference on Texas Massacre

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke accused Texas' GOP leaders of "doing nothing and offering us nothing" in the wake of the massacre at Robb Elementary School.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo