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The debate over raising the federal minimum wage is more heated than ever, so states and cities are taking matters into their own hands and putting more money in your pockets.
Activists gathered in Richmond, Virginia on the weekend of Aug. 13-14 for the national convention of Fight for 15, a campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 dollars. It couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. Public support for a $15 minimum wage is higher than ever. An estimated six in 10 Americans back a $15 minimum wage, according to a 2015 poll by the National Employment Law Project.
Raising the national minimum wage is a huge point of contention between Big Labor and fair-wage advocates; with both sides claiming their position is in the best interest of American workers. President Barack Obama‘s plan to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 dollars per hour has been criticized both for being too much and not enough. Raising the national minimum wage is a huge point of contention between Big Labor and fair-wage advocates; both sides claim their position is in the best interest of American workers.
Meanwhile, a total of 30 states and Washington, D.C., already pay higher minimum wages than what is required under federal law. Both California Gov. Jerry Brown and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed bills this month to raise the minimum wage in their states to $15 dollars an hour. It’s the first time an increase of that scale is being planned on a state level.
Several cities have already approved $15 minimum wage hikes for certain or all employees. The mayors of Boston and Washington, D.C., have both said they back a $15 minimum wage increase for their cities. “Fight for $15” campaigns are currently ongoing in several states, including Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington.
Here’s a look at the places that have been successful in raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour:
1) Los Angeles, Calif.
Minimum wage before increase: $9
Date effective: 2020
In 2015, Los Angeles became the largest city in the nation to approve a $15 minimum wage. Organized-labor activists had pushed the L.A. City Council for years for such an increase, arguing that the city’s existing base pay of $9 an hour wasn’t enough to live on. The campaign gained steam in 2014, after a successful measure to increase base pay for workers in L.A.’s largest hotels to $15.37. The L.A. City Council voted in May 2015 to raise the city’s existing base pay from $9 an hour in yearly increments with the goal of reaching $15 dollars an hour by 2020. The extra time is meant to give businesses a chance to adjust to the $15 increase.
Some saw L.A.’s approval of a $15 minimum wage as just another sign of the unfailing popularity of left-leaning policies in the city. Jaime Regalado, a political science professor at Cal State Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times that the wage increase was “consistent with what we’ve seen as California has grown increasingly blue, especially urban centers like Los Angeles.”
2) Seattle, Wash.
Minimum wage before increase: $9.32
Date effective: 2017 (expanded by 2021)
Many view Sea Town as a guinea pig for the $15 minimum wage. Seattle became one of the first major cities to approve a $15-minimum-wage increase back in May 2014. Opponents argue that it will raise the city’s unemployment rate, but there’s still not enough evidence to prove them right.
“The sky is not falling,” said Jacob Vigdor, Daniel J. Evans professor of Public Policy and Governance at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance to the Seattle Times. “If it was really bad, a lot of people would have lost their jobs and every opening would get tons of applicants. That is not happening.”
The increase, scheduled for 2017, will initially only apply to the largest companies, with the goal to reach all types of employers by 2021.
3) Emeryville, Calif.
Minimum wage before increase: $12.25-$14.44 (depending on company size)
Date effective: 2018 ($16 by 2019)
The city of Emeryville in California’s East Bay will face one of the fastest increases to its minimum wage, outpacing even that of the entire state. The Emeryville City Council voted in May 2015 to raise the city’s minimum wage to $16 an hour by 2019. The increase exceeds recently approved minimum-wage increases in the adjoining Bay Area cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkley.
4) San Francisco, Calif.
Minimum wage before increase: $10.74
Date effective: 2018
San Francisco residents overwhelmingly support a $15 minimum wage. Over 75 percent of the city voted in support of the increase when it appeared as a ballot measure back in November 2014.
“We are in support of it, because we need our employees, and our employees need to live here,” cafe manager Nicole Martin told the Huffington Post. “It is expensive to live in San Francisco.”
5) Mountainview, Calif.
Minimum wage before increase: $10.30
Date effective: 2018
The city where Google has its headquarters approved a $15 minimum wage in October 2014. The Mountain View City Council approved the measure in a 6-1 vote. City resident and Walmart cashier Pam Marley told the Peninsula Press that she was homeless and sleeping in her car. Marley said her $10.40 per hour paycheck was not enough to pay the Bay Area’s steep rent.
6) Syracuse, N.Y.
Minimum wage before increase: $8.75
Date effective: 2015
Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner made headlines after raising the minimum wage for employees of the city government without the government’s consent. The increase, which became effective immediately, surprised many in the Syracruse City Council since they hadn’t taken a vote on it yet.
“It was unexpected,” Syracuse Common Councilor Khalid Bey told a local news outlet. “I certainly commend the mayor for taking a bold step and getting it done … there will more than likely be some push back and concern about the process.”
7) Missoula, Mont.
Minimum wage before increase: $8.05
Date effective: 2018
A move that will only impact a handful of workers, the Missoula City Council voted on July 2015 to gradually raise the minimum wage for city workers. The first increase to $12 an hour went into effect earlier this year. If all goes as planned, Missoula’s wage hike could hit $15 an hour by 2018 and effect a total of 15 workers. It’s a small number, but many see Missoula’s embrace of the $15 minimum wage for its non-union city employees as a promising sign for a city-wide wage hike in the future.
8) Pittsburgh, Pa.
Minimum wage before increase: $7.25
Date effective: 2021
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto raised the minimum wage for city employees by executive order back in November 2015. The gradual wage increase will take place over six years and will effects over 3,000 employees in Pittsburgh overall—including the city’s garbage truck drivers. The city’s contractors are also required to comply with the hike or face penalties. According to WTAE, minimum wage for Pittsburgh city workers will spike to $12.50 in 2017 and $13.75 in 2019, eventually hitting $15 dollars per hour in 2021.
9) San Marcos, Texas
Minimum wage before increase: No minimum wage
Date effective: 2016
San Marcos, a small city 30 miles north of Austin, in February approved a $15-minimum-wage requirement to qualify for certain tax breaks. City legislators in San Marcos mandated that companies that want to be eligible for tax subsidies must pay a livable wage, which includes $15 an hour plus benefits. “We want jobs,” San Marcos Councilman John Thomaide told CNHI. “But if you’re going to pay poverty-level wages, we’re not going to give you subsidies.”
10) New York
Minimum wage before increase: $9
Date effective: 2018 (full roll-out by 2021)
Following a budget agreement earlier this month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state would slowly phase in a $15-minimum-wage hike. The move would go into effect more slowly in certain parts of the state. New York City and its adjoining commuter counties will see the fastest spike; the minimum wage will rise to $10 by the end of this year and increase by $1 dollar every year until hitting $15 per hour in 2021. But other parts of New York State will only see a $12.50 minimum wage by 2020.
Minimum wage before increase: $10
Date effective: 2022
California, the most populous state in the U.S., aims to increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2022. The exception will be cities such as San Francisco, Emeryville, and Los Angeles, which all opted-in to the $15-minimum-wage hike earlier. According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the plan signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Brown can be temporarily halted in the event of a economic slowdown or budget deficit.
Policy experts balk at California’s plan for many reasons. There’s no precedent for the speed and scale of California’s minimum wage hike. Such an increase has only been approved at the city-level. Some economists predict the loss of jobs and state revenue when California’s $15 minimum wage goes into effect. Companies will cut jobs in order to account for the wage hike, some argue, thus offsetting the benefits of increased earnings for minimum-wage workers.
But others argue that wages have been stagnant for years. Meanwhile, the cost-0f-living in California has skyrocketed.
“The minimum wage has not kept pace with the cost of living and is worth less today than it was 50 years ago,” writes Doug Porter in the San Diego Free Press. “This loss of purchasing power means millions of Californians are unable to afford an adequate standard of living, which harms families and the state’s economy and budget.”
12) Washington, D.C.
Minimum wage before increase: $10.50
Date effective: 2020
The D.C. City Council in June voted to raise the minimum wage in the nation’s capital to $15 per hour. Restaurant workers will also see their base pay rise to $5, a figure that will rise with the cost of inflation, according to the Washington Post.
If restaurant workers don’t earn enough in tips to meet the $15 minimum wage threshold, restaurant owners will be responsible for making up the difference. Small and independent restaurant owners alike expressed worries about the added costs and what it would do to business.
Chains were more optimistic about the minimum wage hike. “Fingers crossed that what happened in the District does not stay in the district, but continues to spread all across the country,” said &pizza CEO Michael Pistoria to Fox 5 DC. “It’s a simple but critical concept – allow your staff to thrive and your company will thrive.”
Update 5:03pm CT, Aug. 14: This piece has been updated to include information on the Fight for 15 national convention as well as Washington, D.C.’s decision to raise its minimum wage.
Amrita Khalid is a technology and politics reporter who specializes in breaking down complex issues into practical, useful terms. A former contributor to CQ, a Congressional news and analysis site, she's currently a master's candidate in international relations at the University of Leeds.