Victory! Voters Raise the Minimum Wage in Four States and Two Major Cities

by Mitchell Hirsch

Ballot measures to raise the minimum wage in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, San Francisco and Oakland, California, swept to victory on Election Day 2014 yesterday by substantial margins.  An estimated 609,000 low-wage workers will see their hourly pay rise next year as a result.

Alaskans voted to raise the state’s minimum wage from its current $7.75 to $8.75 in 2015 and $9.75 in 2016, and index it to inflation.  Returns indicate the measure was supported by more than 68 percent of voters.

In Arkansas, 65 percent of voters approved a ballot measure to raise the state’s minimum wage to $7.50 in 2015, $8.00 in 2016 and $8.50 in 2017.

Nebraskans passed a measure raising the state’s minimum wage to $8.00 in 2015 and to $9.00 in 2016, with 59 percent of voters approving.

In South Dakota, 54.9 percent of voters approved a state minimum wage increase to $8.50 per hour, effective January 1, 2015, and index future increases to account for inflation.

While none of the statewide ballot initiatives bring those states’ minimum wages to the $10.10 per hour level that has been proposed in Congress, two California cities voted to set their minimum wage rates even higher yesterday.

In Oakland, California, 80 percent of voters approved a citywide raise in the minimum wage, to $12.25 per hour, effective March 2, 2015.

And 76 percent of voters in San Francisco voted to enact a four-step increase in the citywide minimum wage from its current $10.74 per hour to $15 in 2018, making San Francisco the second major U.S. city to pass a $15 minimum wage following on the heels of the $15 wage floor measure enacted earlier this year in Seattle.  In the wake of the election, cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles are expected to move forward quickly with similar substantial increases in the $13-15 range.

In a non-binding statewide referendum in Illinois, voters also approved a ballot measure telling state legislators they support raising the state minimum wage to at least $10 per hour.  The legislature is expected to address the minimum wage shortly during its post-election session.  If the state passes such a minimum wage increase, another 1.1 million low-wage workers would receive a raise.  That would bring the total to more than 1.7 million workers who would see their hourly pay increase in five states and two major cities as a result of ballot initiatives passed overwhelmingly by voters yesterday.

And in Wisconsin, non-binding questions calling for a state minimum wage increase to $10.10 per hour appeared on the ballot in nine counties and four cities, and all were approved by substantial margins.

With minimum wage increases sweeping to victory in even deeply conservative “red” states, the writing is on the wall.  Momentum for state and local ballot initiatives to raise wages is likely to keep building in coming election cycles.  And politicians in Washington, where Congressional Republicans have blocked raising the poverty-level $7.25 federal minimum wage, had better take heed.