It’s the first week in June: temperatures are rising, the cicadas are swarming, and many state legislatures are wrapping up their 2013 sessions. This flurry of legislative activity has included several important steps forward on the minimum wage.
The biggest news comes from Connecticut, where last week the legislature passed – and the governor signed – a bill to increase the state minimum wage from $8.25 to $9.00 per hour by January 1, 2015. This compromise measure will give a much-needed raise to minimum wage workers in Connecticut, about six in ten of whom are women. An additional 75 cents per hour amounts to $1,500 a year for full-time work, bringing annual wages up from $16,500 to $18,000. That’s a meaningful boost, but still about $500 short of lifting a family of three above the poverty line, much less what is needed in a high-cost state like Connecticut.
And there is a catch: Connecticut’s new law actually reduces the percentage of the minimum wage that employers must pay to workers who receive tips. Today, tipped workers like restaurant servers are entitled to a minimum cash wage that is 69 percent of Connecticut’s full minimum wage ($5.69 per hour). In 2015, when the regular minimum wage is $9.00 instead of $8.25 per hour, tipped workers will be entitled to a minimum cash wage that is 63.2 percent of the full minimum wage ($5.69 per hour) – that is, they will get no raise at all. While most of Connecticut’s minimum wage workers who will get a raise are women, women are also a majority of the tipped workers who will suffer from this unfair exclusion.
Other states are considering stronger and more inclusive minimum wage legislation. Last week in California, the House passed AB 10, which would raise the minimum wage from $8.00 to $9.25 by 2016, then adjust it annually to keep up with inflation. California does not have a lower minimum wage for tipped workers, so they would benefit equally from the proposed minimum wage increase. (As in Connecticut, about six in ten minimum wage workers in California are women.) This measure is sorely needed in California, where the cost of living is notoriously high; though still low, a $9.25 minimum wage would be enough to lift a family of three just above the federal poverty line. The bill now heads to the state Senate.
Finally, in Massachusetts, the legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor & Workforce Development is set to hold a hearing next week on H. 1701/S. 878, which would raise the minimum wage from $8.00 to $11.00 per hour over three years, then adjust it annually for inflation. Again, women would especially benefit: about six in ten minimum wage workers in Massachusetts are women. The bill also would gradually raise the tipped minimum wage – currently just $2.63 per hour – to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage. By substantially raising wages for the state’s lowest-paid workers, including those who receive tips, the Massachusetts proposal could improve economic security for many hardworking families and help close the wage gap while serving as a model for other states. I hope it moves quickly through the legislature and to the governor’s desk.