Minimum wage workers, and some who are working at just above the current minimum wage, in five states will soon see an increase in their pay. In Tuesday’s election, voters sent a mixed message in some areas of the country. They elected Republicans, who are largely opposed to an increase in the minimum wage, but told those Republicans they want a higher minimum wage at the state level.
NBC News reports that about 420,000 workers in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota will see increases in their paychecks thanks to the vote. In addition to those states, a non-binding referendum calling for a higher minimum wage was passed in Illinois. The interesting thing about those states is that in every one except Alaska, where votes are still being counted, Republican governors won election or re-election. Voters also sent Republican senators to Washington in Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, as well as Republican majorities in the U.S. House delegations from each of those states except for Illinois.
At least one new Republican governor is already saying he approves of a minimum wage increase. According to the Chicago Sun Times, governor elect Bruce Rauner said he voted Tuesday to increase Illinois’ minimum wage to $10 an hour. Rauner qualified his support for the increase, saying that he wanted to tie a higher minimum wage to tax reform and other financial reforms. However, the Sun Times points out that the ballot question Rauner says he voted for has no qualifications attached. It simply calls on the state legislature to raise the minimum wage.
Republican lawmakers on both the state and federal levels should probably take note of this fact: While many contests were very close in this election, the votes on minimum wage increases were not close at all. The Huffington Post reports the following margins of approval in the states that voted on minimum wage hikes.
- Alaska 69 percent — 31 percent
- Arkansas 66 percent — 34 percent
- Illinois 67 percent — 33 percent
- Nebraska 59 percent — 41 percent
- South Dakota 55 percent — 45 percent
In Alaska, considered to be one of the most Republican leaning states in the nation, voters not only approved a minimum wage increase, but the measure they approved ties future increases in the minimum wage to inflation. The ballot measure passed by South Dakotans has a similar provision.
One claim made by opponents of the minimum wage is that raising it increases unemployment. While there are many factors to be considered when looking at changes in employment following minimum wage increases, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that following most past increases in the federal minimum wage, unemployment remained steady or declined. In addition, the claim made by some that minimum wage workers are mostly teens working their first job is not supported by data. The BLS annual report “Characteristics Of Minimum Wage Workers 2013” says that fully half of those working minimum wage jobs are age 25 or over. Minimum wage workers are not particularly uneducated, either. Again, the BLS reports that in 2013, only 28 percent of minimum wage workers had less than a high school education. Thirty-five percent had attended college or had an associate’s degree.
It’s no secret that minimum wage workers are struggling. As reported by the Inquisitr, minimum wage workers in states that use the federal minimum wage of $7.25 make less money than welfare recipients. And in many areas, working full time at minimum wage actually allows you to qualify for some welfare programs.
Do minimum wage workers deserve a raise? Most Americans apparently think the answer is “yes.”
[Photo via SEIU]