Activists march for a higher minimum wage

Workers and activists march in support of a higher minimum wage. )

(Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr/cc)

Minimum Wage Hikes Will Boost Pay of Nearly 10 Million US Workers in 2024

"These raises are the outcome of over a decade of workers organizing with Fight for $15," said the National Employment Law Project.

Tireless campaigning by economic justice advocates helped to secure minimum wage hikes for nearly 10 million U.S. workers starting in 2024, and one think tank noted on Wednesday that further successes at the state and local levels are expected in the coming year—but experts said the federal government must catch up with state legislators to deliver fair wages to all workers.

January 1 will see 22 states increase their minimum wages, providing affected workers with an additional $6.95 billion.

That's not counting the 38 cities and counties where minimum pay will be raised starting New Year's Day, including in Montgomery County, Maryland and in Tukwila, Washington, a city outside Seattle that will have the highest minimum wage in the country at $20.29 per hour.

A shrinking number of states still abide by the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, which has not been updated in nearly 15 years.

"In the absence of federal action, states and localities continue to take the lead in advancing fairer wage floors via legislation, ballot measures, and automatic inflation adjustments," wrote Sebastian Martinez Hickey, a research assistant at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), last week.

For the first time in 2024, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York will require workers to be paid at least $15 an hour, joining other high cost-of-living states including California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

At the National Employment Law Project (NELP), senior researcher and policy analyst Yannet Lathrop pointed out on Tuesday that just over a decade after the national Fight for $15 movement was launched, none of the recent ongoing minimum wage campaigns demand less than $15 per hour, and many of the recent victories and campaigns push for "significantly higher wage floors of $20 or above."

The bold demands and reforms of the past year signal "the strength of the movement and a recognition that robust wage increases are needed especially in a post-pandemic, high inflation economic environment," wrote Lathrop. "Some of these campaigns are also demanding equal wages and treatment for all workers including those earning tips, signaling the increasing importance of equitable wage policies."

NELP also noted that the adoption of the $15 minimum wage by large employers like Starbucks and Amazon is likely to positively influence the wage policies of companies across the country.

In addition to raising minimum wages, city and state policymakers have taken other actions this year to stop the exploitation of workers. An ordinance passed in Chicago will phase out the subminimum wage for tipped workers by 2028, and in Boulder County, Colorado, the minimum wage will be raised to $25 per hour by 2030.

Advocates brought to Boulder County policymakers' attention EPI's Family Budget Calculator, wrote Hickey, which showed that a two-income, two-parent, two-child household would need to earn roughly $26 per hour at both jobs to cover "a modest living standard."

The research underscored "how difficult it is for low-wage workers to find a way to live sustainably," Hickey wrote. "A $25 minimum wage might seem high, but the truth is that Boulder County is unlikely to be the highest minimum wage in the country in 2030 because of steps other localities have taken to index their minimum wages to inflation. Strong minimum wage policy can only benefit localities seeking a thriving and equitable local economy."

According to EPI, the minimum wage increases across the U.S. in the new year will disproportionately benefit Black and Hispanic workers. Black Americans make up 9% of the workforce in the states where increases will go into effect, but represent 11.1% of the affected employees. Fewer than 20% of workers in the states are Hispanic, but Hispanic workers make up 37.9% of those whose wages will be increased.

The new state and local laws will increase the purchasing power of households that include 5.6 million children, as more than a quarter of affected workers—2.5 million people—are working parents.

And nearly 20% of workers who will get a raise on January 1 have incomes below the poverty line.

"The minimum wage continues to be a powerful tool for fostering economic equity and ensuring a dignified standard of living for workers across the nation," wrote Hickey. "The proactive steps many states and localities took to index their minimum wages to inflation has helped protect the purchasing power of low-wage workers during the recent period of inflation."

NELP noted that later in 2024, additional minimum wage increases will go into effect in at least three more states and 22 more cities and counties—and advocates will continue campaigning for more victories across the country in the coming year.

Campaigners in states including Alaska, Ohio, and Oklahoma are collecting signatures for ballot initiatives that would push minimum wages to $15 or above, and in California an initiative pushing for an $18 minimum wage by 2026 has qualified for 2024 ballots.

Hickey noted that campaigners are still fighting on behalf of 17.6 million workers who employers continue to pay less than $15 per hour—almost half of whom live in one of the 20 states that use the federal minimum wage.

"Policy reforms are still necessary," wrote Hickey, "to overcome federal inaction and the persistence of unjust minimum wage carve-outs like the tipped minimum wage."

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