Make It

States ringing in 2017 with raises

As 2016 comes to a close, wage advocates are cheering what's being hailed as among the most significant years since 2012, when the Fight for $15 movement began seeking better pay for low-wage workers. Nearly 12 million workers in 19 states and an additional nearly two dozen cities and counties will ring in the New Year with wage hikes that kick in by January 1, according to the conservative Employment Policies Institute.

Support for higher wages has been surging for several years, with major cities including New York City, Seattle and Los Angeles agreeing to increase pay to $15 an hour over the course of several years, and states like New York State and California following suit.

Workers in Arizona will get an increase of 24 percent, from $8.05 an hour to $10 an hour. Meanwhile those in Washington State and Massachusetts will have the highest minimum wages in the country at $11 an hour.

Currently 29 states and Washington, DC, have wages set above the federal floor of $7.25 an hour, a number that has remained stagnant since 2009 despite efforts from the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats to increase it.

"Leaving it up to the states is an approach Trump seems fond of." -Michael Saltsman, research director at the Employment Policies Institute

"We think it was one of the most successful years so far," says Laura Huizar, staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project, a wage advocacy group. "There was a lot of progress made and the momentum continues to build — we already know of 13 campaigns to raise wages in 2017."

In addition to moves at state and local levels, large employers from Wal-Mart to Target and the Gap have waded into the wage war in the past two years, putting more pressure on the nation's smallest employers to keep up with the competition. Higher wages are often an issue on the radar for small businesses, however with Donald Trump in office and a Republican-controlled Congress wage critics now believe its unlikely action will be taken at the federal level to raise pay.

Trump spoke out on the campaign trail in support of a federal minimum wage of $10 an hour. However, since winning the election, he's tapped Andrew Puzder for Labor Secretary, and Puzder is a fast food executive who has opposed any such change.

"Leaving it up to the states is an approach Trump seems fond of," says Michael Saltsman, research director at the EPI. "I think that will be the approach at the federal level for the next four years."

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Saltsman pointed out the patchwork of legislation that has resulted from states and localities taking over can be challenging, especially for smaller employers. For example, New York State's increases have 14 different stages of implementation, according to the New York State Restaurant Association, depending on size and type of business.

Despite this year's success, wage advocates are looking toward 2017, hopeful that the new administration and Congress won't lose sight of the issue.

"Trump has stated at points that he supports a $10 an hour minimum wage for workers that would bring benefits to families, but it's also very clear that is not enough," Huizar says. "So we will continue to see states and cities pushing for wage levels closer to what we need."