Minimum wage set to rise in 19 states in 2017: Dulling of a partisan edge?

More than 4 million workers across the United States will see their pay go up as minimum wage increases take hold. Has the idea of boosting low wages become less of a controversial idea?

Mike Groll/AP/File
A $15 minimum wage rally is held at the Empire State Plaza in Albany, N.Y. Millions of workers across the U.S. will see their pay increase as 19 states bump up their minimum wages as the new year begins.

Workers in 19 states will see their paychecks go up with the turn of the new year, thanks to minimum wage increases that have expanded the conversation on wages hikes to new localities and across partisan lines.

Debates surrounding the pros and cons of minimum wage raises have reverberated through society in “Fight for $15” protests and state capitals around the nation. While those on the left have said wage hikes will pull some of the nation’s most vulnerable low-income workers out of poverty, conservatives have argued that increased costs for businesses will hamper the economy and have harmful fallout for the very workers they proport to help.

But in 2017, several reliably red states will join liberal havens like Massachusetts and California in increasing wages for their workers after voters approved ballot initiatives. In others, indexing will provide the increases.

Altogether some 4.4 million workers are expected to see their hourly wages go up.

In places like Arizona, where voters chose to send President-elect Donald Trump to the Oval Office, they also voted for wage increases, crossing over partisan lines to take on an issue from a more traditionally liberal perspective.

“Some of what Trump tapped into was people wanting to be paid more,” David Cooper, analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, told The Wall Street Journal. “Voting for a minimum-wage increase is one of the ways to make that happen for a lot people.”

But many of the raises remain incremental, boosting hourly rates around $1 or $1.50, leading some to question just how impactful those wage increases will be.

“It’s a start. It’s probably not enough to help people who really need their wages to go up,” Oren Levin-Waldman, a professor in the School for Public Affairs and Administration at the Metropolitan College of New York, previously told The Christian Science Monitor. “The issue is, it does have to be somewhat incremental so you don’t have a shock on businesses.”

Still, for many workers, those little raises will add up to something substantial over a year.  

"This $1.50 increase, I cannot even comprehend or tell you how important this will be," Alvin Major, a New York City fast-food worker and father of four, told the Associated Press. "The price of food has gone up. Rent has gone up. Everything has gone up.... This will make a difference for so many people."

In cities around the country that set the trend of increasing wages, fears of price shock or businesses losses have proved largely unfounded, with localities seeing little impact on their economies. Still, more conservative state governments, like that in Arizona, are pushing back, with state’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry filing a lawsuit to challenge the increase, which is slated to raise the minimum wage from $8.05 to $10. On Thursday, the Arizona Supreme Court refused to temporarily block the measure.

Low-wage workers largely have activists to thank for the change, but note there’s still a long way to go. As states and cities move to raise their wages, the contrast between places still abiding by the federal minimum of $7.25 last raised in 2009 becomes more pronounced.

"These aren't only teens trying to make some pocket money," Tsedeye Gebreselassie, senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project, told the Associated Press. "Increasingly it's adults who are using this money to support their families."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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