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Five More States To Vote On Minimum Wage Increases

With federal lawmakers putting a hold on proposals to raise the national minimum wage, five states are asking voters to decide whether to hike wages for their lowest per-hour workers.

Those five states are Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Washington and South Dakota, according to The Associated Press. If the ballot measures pass in November, those five states will join five others that voted to raise minimum wages in the past two years.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, set in 2009, and federal lawmakers haven't been able to agree on a plan to raise it despite pressure from advocacy groups, organizations fighting for the working poor, and workers themselves, who have taken to the streets in most major U.S. cities to campaign for a $15 national minimum wage.

They won't get that on the state ballots either, but minimum-wage employees in some states could see their hourly wages rise by more than $4.

In Arizona, voters will decide if the state minimum wage rises from $8.05 to $10 in 2017, with incremental increases each year until the state minimum wage reaches $12 in 2020. The ballot measure, known as Proposition 206, would also require businesses to offer paid sick leave to employees of large and small businesses.

Colorado's Amendment 70 is structured like the Arizona referendum. If it passes, the state's minimum wage would rise from $8.31 to $9.30 in 2017, and reach $12 by 2020. Amendment 70 also includes some protection for people whose livelihoods rely on tips, like waiters and valet parking attendants. People working in those jobs typically earn less per hour than colleagues because their hourly wages are supplemented by tips, but the Colorado law would limit how much less employers can pay people in those service jobs.

Maine's Question 4 asks voters to decide if the state's $7.50 minimum wage -- just 25 cents more than the federal minimum -- should be hiked to $12 by 2020. After 2020, the state's minimum wage would be adjusted according to the consumer price index in an effort to ensure the purchasing power of minimum-wage employees remains consistent. Maine's proposition is the friendliest to tipped workers, and if it passes tipped workers would earn the same minimum wage as other employees, with tips supplementing their income.

In South Dakota, voters are asked to decide whether workers younger than 18 should be paid $7.50, the current rate, or the state minimum for adults, which is $8.55. Voters raised the minimum wage in their state to $8.50 an hour, plus inflation adjustments, in 2014, but state lawmakers shaved the minimum wage for minors the next year. The state's Referred Law 20 essentially asks voters whether they'd prefer resetting wages for minors to the state minimum, or allow the legislature's adjustment to stand.

Employees in Washington could get the biggest pay hike, with the state proposing a $13.50 minimum wage by 2020, up from the current $9.47. Initiative 1433 would also require employers to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.

Groups that traditionally oppose minimum wage hikes, arguing that the added cost to businesses could lead to layoffs and other negative effects on the economy, aren't full-out campaigning against the 2016 ballots, AP noted.

"It almost always passes when it gets on the ballot," Jerold Waltman, a political scientist at Baylor University. "Most Americans have a fundamental sense of fairness, that if you work, you ought to make enough to make a living wage on. Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on this."

Others say they don't oppose a minimum wage hike, but argue that minimum wages of $12 or more would hurt the economy, particularly small businesses. Peter Gore of the Main State Chamber of Commerce is among those calling for more modest wage hikes. Gore says he believes a $10 minimum wage would balance the needs of employers with those of their employees.

"We believe it is time the minimum wage in Maine does need to go up, but it needs to be something and more reasonable and sustainable for small employers," Gore said.

Others, like the National Employment Law Project, continue to push for a $15 minimum wage, arguing that corporate profits as a percentage of national income is at an all-time high, while wages are the lowest they've been in 65 years.

Earlier this year, the group pointed to a leaked poll that had been commissioned by the national Chamber of Commerce. The poll found overwhelming support for minimum wage hikes among business leaders regardless of political affiliation.

“We’ve actually looked at this issue a number of different ways,” pollster David Merritt said.  “We’ve done focus groups on it, as part of policy discussions, and this is universal.  If you’re fighting against the minimum wage increase, you’re fighting an uphill battle, because most Americans, even most Republicans are OK with raising the minimum wage.”

Sources: AP (2), National Employment Law Project (2) / Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue/Wikimedia Commons

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