More Green is Coming to Workers in Two Red States

Cummings, Angela - 300dpi
Angela Cummings

As everyone knows, an historic midterm election occurred this week. Early projections from The New York Times estimate that more than 114 million ballots were case this year, which presents an increase of almost 30 million votes from the 2014 midterms. The big take-aways include the Democrats retaking control of the House and the Republicans retaining their majority in the Senate. Also, a record number of female candidates (more than 250) and people of color (almost 200) ran for office in this election, with many of these candidates throwing their hats in the ring for the very first time. Not surprisingly, health care, immigration and the economy were at the top of the list for voters during exit poll interviews.

In addition to these national issues, many states considered important ballot initiatives. Two such initiatives occurred in Missouri and Arkansas, where voters were able to decide, directly, whether to raise their respective states’ minimum wages. They both responded, “yes.”

The ballot initiative “Proposition B” in Missouri will gradually increase the state’s minimum wage from the current rate of $7.85 per hour to $12.00 per hour by 2023. Missouri’s minimum wage was previously raised from the federal standard minimum wage of $7.25 per hour in 2016, also through a ballot initiative. Missourian workers will receive their first raise under the new law in January 2019, when the standard minimum wage will rise to $8.60 per hour. This law will not affect tipped workers, though.

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As is often the case with wage laws, there is a divide across political and organizational lines (with many labor groups and Democrats supporting the initiative, and many employer groups and Republicans disapproving of it). According to the Economic Policy Institute’s analysis, Proposition B will raise wages for 677,000 Missouri residents. Republican lawmakers have been vocal in their opposition to a state-wide increase in the minimum wage. In fact, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a law in 2014 prohibiting cities and counties in Missouri from enacting ordinances to raise their minimum wages above state levels. Notably, Republican Senator-elect Josh Hawley stated in a pre-election debate, “I’m going to vote no on the Missouri measure because I’m worried that it will raise the minimum wage here quickly and out of step with other states.” Despite these concerns from newly-elected leadership, voters in the state still approved the ballot measure.

Arkansas is another historically red state where minimum wage workers will soon receive raises. Arkansas’ ballot initiative “Issue 5” raises the minimum wage from the current amount of $8.50 per hour to $11.00 per hour over the next three years. The first bump will be to $9.25 per hour in January 2019. The wage rate will then rise to $10.00 on January 1, 2020, and to $11.00 per hour on January 1, 2021. Although this increase is anticipated to affect more than 300,000 workers in the state, according to the National Employment Law Project, as in Missouri, the increase will not affect tipped workers. Labor unions have pushed for the increase and have funded some of the advocacy groups who supported the initiative. “Arkansans for a Fair Wage” campaigned hard for the new law with the more than $1.4 million it received in contributions to do so. The Arkansas proposal also had critics, of course, including the state chamber of commerce, which stated that the increase would raise consumer prices and force businesses to cut workers’ hours.

The minimum wage remains at the federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 per hour in 21 states. This rate was last increased almost ten years ago, in 2009. Advocacy groups and Democrats will likely continue to try to push this issue directly in front of voters, where there is a much greater likelihood of passage than in many of those states’ legislatures. This is especially true in states that have seen a rise in younger voters, who are often strong proponents of increasing the minimum wage. In fact, a poll by Morning Consult showed that raising the minimum wage was the most important issue to the young voters surveyed. Sixty-eight percent of those voters also stated that they were more likely to vote for a candidate if he or she supported raising the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour. We will have to wait and see what the next election holds.


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