The state with the highest minimum wage isn't California or New York—and it pays more than $15/hour

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About half of U.S. states hiked their minimum wages in January, with a few more gearing up to do so later this year.

Eight state minimums now hover in the $13 per hour range, like those in Illinois and Arizona. Eighteen remain the same as the federal minimum, $7.25 per hour, like those in Idaho and Oklahoma. Regardless, none match the living needs of all of their residents, at least according to MIT's Living Wage Calculator.

Among the most prevailing fights for a higher wage is an ongoing campaign to raise the federal minimum to $15 per hour. And some states have heeded, or even surpassed, that goal.

These are the five states with the highest minimum wages in the country, including the average living wage of a single person with no dependents for each according to MIT.

Washington: $15.74

Living wage: $19.58

California: $15.50

Living wage: $21.24

Massachusetts: $15  

Living wage: $21.35

New York: $14.20

Living wage: $21.46

New Jersey: $14.13

Living wage: $18.71

Washington, California, Massachusetts and New Jersey raised their minimums in January, while New York raised its in December 2022. Both New York and New Jersey plan to continue raising their minimums to reach $15 over the next few years, and Washington has implemented a regular annual increase.

One key thing to keep in mind about the above living wages is they're weighted averages, meaning they're not representative of a living wage for a single person with no dependents in every county in these states. In the state of Washington, for example, the minimum wage covers the living wage in 15 out of 39 counties.

The map below outlines Washington state's minimum wage versus the living wage of a single person with no dependents in each county. It also includes the percentage of nonfamily households falling within or below that living wage in each county, as well as the percentage of nonfamily households in that county altogether. A nonfamily household includes both single people with no dependents and unmarried individuals who live together (like roommates).

Some cities within these states have also enacted their own minimums. Seattle's minimum wage is $18.69 per hour as of 2023 and New York City's minimum wage is $15 per hour as of December 2022.

But even in "places that have successfully, to their credit, raised minimum wages substantially over the federal level," says Ben Zipperer, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, "they're still in many cases not a living wage."

"I think the crux of it is that low pay in this country is a very widespread problem."

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