It will be a happy New Year indeed for millions of the lowest-paid U.S. workers as 19 states increase their minimum wage. Washington and Massachusetts will have the highest new minimum wages in the country – $11 an hour – starting Sunday.
It’s the first of a multistep increase approved by Washington voters last month. Initiative 1433 incrementally raises the state’s rate over the next four years to $13.50 an hour.
The new law also requires employers to provide paid sick leave starting Jan. 1, 2018.
The new minimum wage applies to all jobs, including those in agriculture. Workers who are younger than 16 years old can be paid 85 percent of the adult minimum wage – $9.35 per hour – next year.
For employers in cities that already have higher minimum wages – Seattle, Tacoma and the city of SeaTac – the local minimum wage rate will apply as long as it is higher than the state minimum. Seattle will require many employers to pay as much as $15 an hour, depending on the number of employees the company has nationally and whether it provides health care benefits.
Under the new law, the statewide minimum wage will increase to $11.50 in 2018, $12 in 2019 and $13.50 in 2020.
Workers and labor advocates argue the increases will help low-wage workers now barely making ends meet and boost the economy by giving some consumers more money to spend. But many business owners opposed the higher wages, saying they would lead to higher prices and greater automation.
Voters in Arizona, Maine and Colorado also approved increases in this year’s election. Seven other states – Alaska, Florida, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio and South Dakota – automatically raise the wage based on indexing. The other states seeing increases are Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Michigan and Vermont.
California will raise its wage to $10.50 for businesses with 26 or more employees. New York state is taking a regional approach, with the wage rising to $11 in New York City, $10 in its downstate suburbs and $9.70 elsewhere.
“This $1.50 increase, I cannot even comprehend or tell you how important this will be,” said Alvin Major, a New York City fast-food worker.
The 51-year-old father of four helped lead the fight for the increase in his state, one of several successful efforts by fast-food workers and other low wage workers around the country.
“The price of food has gone up. Rent has gone up. Everything has gone up,” Major said. “This will make a difference for so many people.”
In Arizona, the state Chamber of Commerce and Industry filed a lawsuit challenging the increase, which will raise the minimum wage from $8.05 to $10. On Thursday, the Arizona Supreme Court refused to temporarily block the raise.
Some restaurant owners may consider reducing portion sizes or charging for side dishes that were once included in the price of a meal to absorb the increase, according to Melissa Fleischut, president of the New York State Restaurant Association.
“I’m sure prices will go up where they can, but restaurants want to avoid sticker shock,” she said. “They’re going to have to get creative.”
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