Despite a resounding Republican sweep on Election Day, November 4, 2014, minimum wage increase ballot measures passed in four states with comfortable margins of victory:
Arkansas – The wage will rise from $6.25 to $8.50 an hour by 2017 (66% of the vote)
Nebraska – It will go from $7.25 to $9 per hour (59% of the vote)
Alaska – Alaska will see an increase to $9.75 per hour in 2016 (69% of the vote)
South Dakota – It will go from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour (55% of the vote)
Also, Illinois passed a non-binding referendum raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour. Every measure put before the voters on this issue passed. About 420,000 workers in these states will see an increase in their paychecks, thanks to this vote.
In his January, 2014 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. However, Senate Republicans later blocked the legislation. Supporters had 54 votes, but 60 were needed to advance the bill. Soon after, the President signed an Executive Order raising the wage to $10.10 for individuals working on new federal service contracts.
Ironically, voters approved minimum wage increases in the same states that Republicans were swept into office. The GOP is generally opposed to such increases, viewing the action as a job killer. “When you raise the cost of something, you get less of it,” House Speaker John Boehner, said earlier this year. “We know from increases in the minimum wage in the past that hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans have lost their jobs.”
There are prominent Republicans who disagree with this position including former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Senator Susan Collins of Maine even tried to broker a compromise for a smaller minimum wage increase earlier this year.
The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). But, the FLSA does not supersede any state or local laws that are more favorable to employees. If a state has a wage that is higher than the federal minimum, employers subject to the state wage law are obligated to pay the higher rate to their employees. Overall, about 13 states increased the wage this year and, according to estimates from the Council of Economic Advisers, about 7 million workers will benefit from these increases by the year 2017.
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