California and New York are making history, both passing laws that would gradually raise the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour – the highest in the nation.
The Associated Press reports these new laws are “the most ambitious moves yet to closing the national divide between rich and poor.” California and Massachusetts currently have the highest statewide minimum wage at $10. Washington, D.C., stands at $10.50. Louisiana legislators are also discussing the state’s minimum wage rate in the current regular session.
Louisiana is one of five states that does not have its own minimum wage and currently uses the federal wage of $7.25 an hour. Governor John Bel Edwards testified in support of a bill that would increase the minimum wage in Louisiana to $8.50 over the next two years.
Senator Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) authored legislation which gradually increases Louisiana’s current $7.25 minimum wage to $8.00 on January 1, 2017 and to $8.50 on January 1, 2018.
“By today’s standards, $7.25 is simply insufficient for working families…the foundation of our communities,” Edwards said. “Investing in the success of Louisiana families means we’re investing in our success as a state. A modest, but meaningful increase to our minimum wage would do just that.”
District 37 State Senator Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, voted against the bill in committee.
“I believe that we need to let our free market system determine the minimum wage in the state and we need to align ourselves with federal law and not go beyond that law,” Peacock explained. “Everyone wants a raise and I don’t blame them for wanting a raise, but if you set something too high, you may find that you can’t get a job because no one can afford it. Seeing what’s happening around the country with states and cities setting their own minimum wage, I don’t think they will have a good outcome overall.”
Tom Scott, executive director of the state branch of the National Federation of Independent Business, told the Associated Press in a statement that a $15 base wage will have “devastating impacts on small businesses in California,” warning that the move could cost thousands of jobs as employers are forced to provide steadily bigger paychecks.
The newly signed California bill will bump the state’s $10 hourly minimum by 50 cents next year and to $11 in 2018. Hourly $1 raises will then come every January until 2022, unless the governor imposes a delay during an economic recession. Businesses with 25 or fewer employees have an extra year to comply.
Los Angeles, Seattle and other cities have recently approved $15 minimum wages, while Oregon officials plan to increase the minimum to $14.75 an hour in cities and $12.50 in rural areas by 2022. New York’s state budget includes gradually raising the $9 minimum wage to $15, starting in New York City in three years and phasing in at a lower level elsewhere.
An eventual statewide increase to $15 would be tied to economic indicators such as inflation. During his campaign for governor, Gov. Edwards voiced support for increasing the minimum wage.
“We have a real chance to make a real difference in the lives of families and children all across Louisiana by raising the minimum wage,” Edwards said. “When our families do better, our state does better. Helping folks who are working hard every day, but can barely make ends meet at the end of the month because their pay is so low, is something that we can absolutely change.”