Sun, Jan 03, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Minimum wage rises in 14 US states

Reuters, CHICAGO

Protesters march in Boston demanding the raise of the US minimum wage on April 14 last year.

Photo: AP

As the US marks more than six years without an increase in the federal minimum wage of US$7.25 per hour, 14 US states and several cities are moving forward with their own increases, with most set to start taking effect on Friday.

California and Massachusetts are highest among the states, both increasing from US$9 to US$10 per hour, according to an analysis by the US National Conference of State Legislatures. At the low end is the state of Arkansas, where the minimum wage is increasing from US$7.5 to US$8. The smallest increase — US$0.05 — comes in the state of South Dakota, where the hourly minimum wage is now $8.55.

The increases come in the wake of a series of “living wage” protests across the country — including a November campaign in which thousands of protesters in 270 cities marched in support of a US$15 per hour minimum wage and union rights for fast-food workers. Food-service workers make up the largest group of minimum-wage earners, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

With Friday’s increases, the new average minimum wage across the 14 affected states rises from US$8.5 an hour to a little more than US$9.

Several cities are going even higher. Seattle is setting a sliding hourly minimum between US$10.5 and US$13 on Jan. 1, and Los Angeles and San Francisco are enacting similar increases in July, en route to US$15 per hour phased in over six years.

Proponents of the move said a higher minimum wage helps to combat poverty, but opponents are concerned about the potential impact on employment and company profits.

Last year, a Democratic-backed congressional proposal to increase the federal minimum wage for the first time since 2009 to US$10.10 stalled, as have subsequent efforts by US President Barack Obama.

More recent proposals by some lawmakers call for a federal minimum wage of up to US$15 per hour.

Princeton University economics professor Alan Krueger said a federal minimum wage of up to US$12 per hour, phased in over five years or so, “would not have a noticeable effect on employment.”

Some employers might cut jobs in response to a minimum-wage increase, Krueger said, while others might find hikes allow them to fill job vacancies and reduce staff turnover, lifting employment but lowering profits.

In recent years, an increasing number of US states and municipalities have enacted their own wage-floor policies. Now, 29 states plus the District of Columbia and about two dozen cities and counties have their minimum wage at levels higher than the federal minimum.

Many are now in the midst of multiyear phase-in plans that would ultimately take them to between US$10 and US$15 per hour.

The 14 states where increases take effect on Friday are: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia.

The non-partisan US Congressional Budget Office estimated last year’s federal proposal would have raised the wages of 16.5 million US citizens and lifted 900,000 of them out of poverty but would have cost as many as 1 million jobs.

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