Voters support minimum wage increase. Will Trump?

Jon Peacock is director of the Wisconsin Budget Project.

The broad popular support for increasing the minimum wage was demonstrated quite clearly on Nov. 8 when voters backed increases in all five states where the wage floor was on the ballot. Now President-elect Trump should back up his promises to help the working class by pushing for a significant boost in the national minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25 per hour for almost eight years.

In Arizona, Colorado, and Maine, voters approved increases in their state minimum wages to $12 by 2020. Voters in Washington State went further by approving a measure to raise the minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020, and the electorate of Flagstaff, Arizona, approved an increase to $15 by 2021. The state-level ballot measures in Arizona and Washington also expand paid sick leave to more workers.

The increases in the pay floor were approved by significant percentages: Sixty percent in Washington, 59 percent in Arizona, and 55 percent in both Colorado and Maine. About 2.3 million workers in those four states are expected to get raises. The fifth state that voted on the issue is South Dakota, where a proposal to reduce their $8.55 minimum wage was rejected by 71 percent of voters.

The minimum wage increases approved last week come on the heels of increases adopted legislatively earlier this year in California, New York, Oregon, the District of Columbia, and roughly a dozen cities and counties — all of which have established minimum wages of $12 or higher by 2020. Raising the national or Wisconsin minimum to that level by 2020 would give a raise to 654,000 Wisconsin workers, which is nearly a quarter of our state’s workforce.

When Donald Trump becomes president in January, he should push for a significant increase in the wage floor. Throughout his campaign, Trump argued that the economy has been rigged against working men and women, and that theme helped create an unusual coalition that carried him to victory. It’s true that low-wage workers haven’t gotten much benefit from national economic growth, and tackling that problem by raising the minimum wage would be a great way for Trump to show that he stands for change and economic justice, rather than protecting the rich and powerful.

If President Trump doesn’t have the good sense to push through a minimum wage increase in 2017, it’s time for Wisconsin lawmakers to finally increase our state’s wage floor and ensure every job provides a decent wage. Consider the following comparison between Wisconsin and the 29 states have set their pay floor above the national level:

  • In Wisconsin and the 20 other states where the minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25, it is now 18.5 percent below the average minimum ($8.90) in the states that exceed the federal minimum.
  • Because many states are phasing in increases or tie their minimum to the inflation rate, four years from now the average minimum wage in the states currently above $7.25 will be $10.63, which is almost 47 percent above the Wisconsin level.

The votes on ballot measures last week show very clearly that Americans are clamoring for a higher minimum wage. (Read here about the strong public support in Wisconsin for an increase in the wage floor.)  It is time that federal lawmakers and their counterparts in Wisconsin hear those concerns and enact strong measures that help more workers support their families and climb an economic ladder to the middle class.

Jon Peacock is the Director of the Wisconsin Budget Project.