Here in D.C. and across the country, election results consume the headlines, even as many of us breathe a sigh of relief that the long campaign season is over. But in addition to the big-ticket races on Election Day, there were a number of ballot initiatives in cities and states that are less publicized nationally but no less important to the people affected. These include three municipal ballot measures – in Albuquerque, San Jose, and Long Beach – to raise the minimum wage. All three passed with substantial majorities, meaning many low-wage workers in these cities will soon find it a bit easier to make ends meet. Specifically:

  • In Albuquerque, New Mexico, the minimum wage will rise from $7.50 to $8.50 per hour in January 2013, and will automatically adjust in future years to keep up with inflation. New Mexico Voices for Children estimates that 40,000 workers (one-seventh of Albuquerque’s workforce) will see higher paychecks as a result – generating about $18 million in consumer spending and helping to create new jobs as businesses expand to meet the increased demand.
  • In San Jose, California, the minimum wage will rise from $8 per hour (California’s current minimum wage) to $10 per hour, and it will also be indexed for inflation. The increase will likely go into effect in March 2013. A report from the University of California–Berkeley estimates that over 69,000 workers (18.9 percent of San Jose’s workforce) will get a raise, which will boost consumer spending by $190 million and support the creation of 200 new full-time jobs.
  • In Long Beach, California, a narrower measure will raise the minimum wage for hotel workers to $13 per hour (up from $8/hour), provide an annual cost-of-living adjustment, and guarantee these workers five paid sick days each year. The increase will take effect after the vote is certified and the City Council adopts the measure, probably in December. The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy estimates that wages in this sector currently average only $10 per hour, about half the median annual earnings of $48,000 in Long Beach.

Kudos to voters in Albuquerque, San Jose, and Long Beach for recognizing that low-wage workers in their cities deserve a raise! But with the federal minimum wage still at $7.25 an hour, millions of minimum wage workers across the country – most of whom are women – should not have to wait for local action to boost their pay. Full-time earnings at the federal minimum wage amount to just $14,500 a year, leaving a mom with two children thousands of dollars below the federal poverty line. Congress could lift many working families out of poverty by passing a bill introduced over the summer, the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012, which would gradually raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.80 per hour, increase the tipped minimum cash wage from $2.13 per hour to 70 percent of the minimum wage, and index the minimum wage to keep pace with inflation.

Raising the federal minimum wage would positively affect the economy on a national scale: the Economic Policy Institute estimates that the Fair Minimum Wage Act would generate about $25 billion in additional economic activity and around 100,000 jobs. Because women are the majority of minimum wage earners, raising the minimum wage would boost the earning power of millions of women and help close the gender wage gap. And public support for a higher minimum wage is hardly limited to Albuquerque, San Jose and Long Beach; a national poll conducted earlier this year found that nearly three in four likely voters (73 percent) in the U.S. support increasing the minimum wage to $10 per hour and indexing it to inflation. So let’s hope Congress gets the message and acts soon to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act.