What’s Happening With the Minimum Wage

Virtually every issue I write about morphs over time — new information, a new wrinkle identified, a whole new development, etc.

Nothing unusual about this. It’s how public policy is. But it’s frustrating because the posts I’ve published are out there in the cyber-world — and still read, which indicates continuing interest in learning the latest.

So here are a couple of updates on minimum wage increases.

A Better Minimum Wage Proposal

As I noted in my post about the President’s minimum wage proposal, Senator Tom Harkin and Congressman George Miller said they planned to introduce a bill that would phase in a larger increase.

Now they have. And, as promised, it would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by 2015, then index it to cost-of-living increases, as the President also proposed.

Like last year’s Fair Minimum Wage Act, the new version would also gradually raise the tip credit wage until it reached 70% of the regular federal minimum — estimated at $7.07 an hour. It would then remain at 70%, thus rising whenever the regular federal minimum did.

Congressman Miller took a stab at getting the bill passed by proposing it as an amendment to the SKILLS Act — a block grant of sorts of all the federal workforce development programs that wouldn’t be killed outright.

The amendment was resoundingly defeated, with all Republicans (except those absent) and six Democrats voting against it.

Not the end of the effort, I’m sure. But it shows how tough the battle will be.

Impatience at State and Local Levels

It took Congress 10 years to pass the last federal minimum wage increase. As one bill and then another stalled, action shifted to the states.

Seventeen states raised their minimum wages higher than the frozen federal level — and in nine cases, indexed them. Several cities did so as well.

A lesson of sorts to Congressional Republicans and business interests fueling the opposition, since the federal bills they were blocking didn’t include indexing.

We’re seeing signs of a similar movement now.

Last November, voters in San Jose, California passed a ballot measure that increased the local minimum wage to $10.00 an hour — and indexed it.

Albuquerque voters also approved a ballot measure to raise and index their city’s minimum wage, with a partial exemption for employers that spend a specified minimum on child care or health care benefits.

The New Mexico legislature has passed a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage to the same level as Albuquerque’s. Governor Susana Martinez hasĀ all but said she’ll veto it, but would approve a smaller increase.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie did recently veto a minimum wage increase, though in a manner that would have allowed the legislature to come back with a phased-in version — and no indexing.

The legislature decided instead to put a slightly smaller increase on the ballot.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have agreed to a deal that will raise the state’s minimum wage to $9.00 by 2016. No indexing, however, because Senate Republicans wouldn’t buy it. No increase in the tip credit wage either.

Minimum wage increases are also pending in six other states — some with more hopeful prospects than others. None would boost the wage as much as the Fair Minimum Wage Act would, but all would index.

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