Activist gather at Seattle City Hall during the campaign to raise the city’s minimum wage. Photo Credit: David Ryder/Reuters

Voter Support Spreading Nationwide for Higher Minimum Wage

Workers deserve to earn enough to support themselves and their families.

This concept has helped guide the work of the Alliance for a Just Society for years. And, in the recent midterm elections, voters in five states and two cities showed that this is an issue that is important to people of all backgrounds, in all parts of the country.

In this November election, voters in Arkansas, Alaska, South Dakota, and Nebraska voted to increase the minimum wage in their state, and voters in Oakland and San Francisco, California, voted to increase the wage in their cities. (Voters in Illinois and in some counties in Wisconsin also supported nonbinding initiatives to increase their minimum wage.) While Oakland and San Francisco may come as little surprise to many, the votes in the four “red” states show that increasing wages is an issue that cuts across party lines and the urban/rural divide.

In fact, when minimum wage initiatives are placed on the ballot rather than being left up to elected officials, they historically receive overwhelming support. In 2004, 70 percent of voters in Florida and Nevada supported increases in those states, and in 2006, voters in Ohio, Nevada, Montana, Missouri, Colorado, and Arizona supported increases. In 2012, in San Jose, Calif., voters easily approved a $2 minimum wage increase to $10.15.

Additionally, opinion polls show that Americans want an increase to the federal minimum wage, too. Workers across the country recognize the importance of making work pay, and that a full-time job should allow a worker to provide for herself and her family.

While these minimum wage increases fall short of providing a living wage for workers, they are an important step in helping working families make ends meet.

The next installment in the Alliance’s Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series, to be released next week, will show that workers across the country fall short of making ends meet and that women and people of color are especially likely to earn low wages. For these workers at the bottom end of the pay scale, an increase in the minimum wage can mean the ability to pay rent and provide food for their family.

Increases to state minimum wages are significant, and impact working families in real ways. However, the federal minimum wage falls well short of providing a living wage for working parents, as shown in the 10 states included in “Families Out of Balance,” released in August. Workers need action not only at the ballot box, but at the federal level, too.

Some members of Congress are urging President Obama to use an executive order to increase wages for federal contractors to $15 per hour; while this would be an important step, millions of working families will still fall short of making ends meet until the federal minimum wage is increased for all workers.

Workers across the country, in red states and blue states, are demanding a raise; it seems about time that their elected officials listen.