The movement to raise the minimum wage has been gaining momentum recently as states and localities raise minimum wages on their own in light of federal inaction. Washington, D.C.’s council voted this week to raise the minimum wage to $11.50, higher than any state. (The mayor, however, has to approve it.) In November, voters in SeaTac, the suburban home to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, approved a $15 minimum wage, the highest in Washington, which is home to the highest state minimum wage.
Nineteen states and the District have minimum wages higher than the federal government’s $7.25-an-hour rate, which was set in 2009. Lawmakers in four more — California, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island — have passed bills that will raise the minimum wage in 2014, according to the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. And voters in New Jersey voted to do the same in November.
The minimum wage reached its peak value — adjusted to 2012 dollars — in 1968, as the Pew Research Center shows in the graph below. Nearly one in six workers would be affected by raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by July 2015, according to Pew. And slightly more than half of minimum-wage workers last year were aged 16 to 24. Businesses say raising the minimum wage will drive up prices and could force some workers out of jobs. Supporters of the raise argue that such consequences are overstated and that businesses could see the extra wages come back in the form of spending by fast-food workers.