Analysis Politics

Minimum Wage in Five States Could Look Vastly Different After Election Day

Teddy Wilson

Voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, and South Dakota will decide ballot measures, also known as initiatives or issues, on Election Day to increase those states’ minimum wage.

Voters in 42 states on Election Day will decide an assortment of ballot measures, also known as initiatives or issues, that cover various largely polarizing political issues. Voters in five states—Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, and South Dakota—will decide ballot measures to increase those states’ minimum wage.

Each measure would increase the minimum wage above the federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, but how far above that threshold and the timeline for the increases vary by state.

Illinois is the only state of the five where the ballot measure is not legally binding. The ballot measure would only advise the state legislature to take action and increase the minimum wage. The Minimum Wage Increase Question would potentially lead lawmakers to increase the minimum wage from $8.25 to $10 per hour.

If each measure is passed (and Illinois lawmakers acts on their constituents’ advice), it would increase the pay of at least 680,000 low-wage workers in those states, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight.

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Only two states, Alaska and South Dakota, include language on the ballot measures that would mandate an annual increase in the minimum wage to adjust for inflation. South Dakota is the only state in which the measure also addresses workers whose wages are made through gratuity or tips.

Each measure was placed on the ballot through a ballot initiative process, with the exception of Illinois. In order for the measures to qualify to be placed on the ballot, activists in the four states gathered and verified a total of more than 200,000 signatures.

There are organized campaigns and political action committees actively working to support the measures in each state, but there is no similar organized opposition to the minimum wage measures. While there is a partisan divide between supporters and opponents, Republican candidates for governor and U.S. Senate in both Alaska and Arkansas have voiced their support for boosting low wages.

Alaska Ballot Measure 3

In Alaska, Ballot Measure 3 would increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.75 per hour to $8.75 per hour beginning January 1. The minimum wage would be increased again to $9.75 per hour a year later. The state’s minimum wage would be adjusted for inflation or increased by $1 over the federal minimum wage—whichever is higher.

While the median household income is above the national average and the percentage of residents living in poverty is also below the national average, the cost of living in Alaska is significantly higher than most other states. Alaska has the fourth highest cost of living in the United States, behind only Hawaii, New York, and Connecticut, according to a report by the Department of Labor.

Republicans in the state house last spring introduced and passed HB 384, which would have increased the minimum wage to $9 per hour on July 1, and to $10 per hour in 2015. Even though the bill would have increased the minimum wage by more than the ballot measure, Democrats opposed it because they claimed Republicans would simply repeal the law the next year as they had done before.

Alaskan Republicans passed a bill in 2002 to mandate that the state’s minimum wage increase with inflation. That same year Democrats had successfully placed a measure on the ballot to increase the minimum wage. Once the legislation was passed, the measure was by law forced to be removed from the ballot. The next year, Republicans passed legislation to remove the inflation adjustment from the minimum wage.

When the legislative session was adjourned in April, HB 384 died in the state Senate Finance Committee.

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D) has come out in favor of raising the state’s minimum wage, and has also co-sponsored legislation to increase the federal minimum wage. Begich’s Republican opponent Dan Sullivan initially opposed the minimum wage increase, but later changed course to support the measure.

A Public Policy Polling poll found that 58 percent of Alaskans surveyed support the measure to increase the minimum wage.

Arkansas Issue 5

The $6.25 per hour minimum wage in Arkansas is lower than the federal minimum wage, but is superseded by federal law. Issue 5 would increase the state’s minimum wage to $7.50 per hour on January 1. It would also increase the minimum wage twice more, to $8 per hour on January 1, 2016 and to $8.50 per hour on January 1, 2017.

Arkansas has the fourth highest percentage of residents living in poverty. The median household income, over the past decade, has been among the lowest in the nation, and has seen little improvement.

The ballot measure survived a court challenge, as the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a ruling Monday that it could remain on the ballot. Little Rock businessman Jackson T. Stephens challenged the measure on the grounds that the deadline to submit signatures was not met and that signatures submitted by supporters were invalid.

Stephens owns one of the largest private investment banks in the country and is board chairman of the conservative Club for Growth, a 501(c)4 that endorses and campaigns for far-right candidates.

Federal Election Commission filings show that since 2010, Stephens has contributed $1.4 million to the Club for Growth Action independent-expenditure super PAC.

The Club for Growth endorsed Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Dardanelle) for U.S. Senate in Arkansas and launched attack ads against incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D). Cotton has received more than $546,000 in campaign contributions from the Club for Growth, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Pryor and other Arkansas Democrats have made increasing the minimum wage a focal point of the campaign. Pryor criticized Cotton for his lack of support for measure. Cotton, who voted against increasing the federal minimum wage, announced his support for the measure, effectively blunting Pryor’s criticism.

Nebraska Initiative 425

Nebraska’s Initiative 425 would increase the state’s hourly minimum wage to $9 per hour over two years. The minimum wage would be increased from $7.25 per hour to $8.00 per hour on January 1, and then increase to $9.00 per hour at the start of 2016.

If passed, it will be the first time the state’s minimum wage was higher than the federal minimum wage.

The median household income in the state is just below the national average, but the percentage of residents living in poverty is also below the national average. Supporters of the measure claim the increase is needed in part because Nebraska had the second highest percent of hourly workers at or below minimum wage when compared with surrounding states.

Opponents this fall held a press conference and outlined their opposition to Initiative 425. They claim it would increase costs for small business and do little to help the working poor. The press conference was organized by the Platte Institute for Economic Research, a conservative think tank headquartered in Omaha that promotes right-wing economic policies.

The founder of the Platte Institute is Pete Ricketts, the Republican candidate for governor. Ricketts’ father, Joe Ricketts, is the founder of the online brokerage firm Ameritrade, and the founder of Ending Spending Action Fund, a 501(c)4 that has spent millions over the last few years supporting conservative candidates.

Ricketts has opposed raising the minimum wage on the campaign trail, while Chuck Hassebrook, the Democratic nominee for governor, supports raising the minimum wage.

South Dakota Measure 18

Measure 18 would increase the minimum wage in South Dakota from $7.25 to $8.50 per hour beginning January 1. It would also mandate an increase in the minimum wage each year to adjust for inflation. Workers who earn wages through tips would also see a wage increase, as the measure would increase their hourly pay from $2.13 to $4.25 per hour.

One in six employed South Dakota workers would likely see an increase in their wages if the minimum wage were raised, according to an analysis by the South Dakota Budget and Policy Institute. The analysis also found that one in seven children in the state have at least one parent that would be affected by the minimum wage increase.

The Lincoln Journal-Star endorsed voting for Measure 18, because the benefit of increasing the minimum wage outweighed the possible negative impact.

“Fears of negative economic impacts have proved exaggerated in the past when the minimum wage was increased,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote.

Measure 18 appears to have significant support from South Dakota voters, as 60 percent of likely voters said they support the minimum wage increase, according to a recent SurveyUSA poll. Twenty-eight percent oppose the increase and 13 percent are undecided.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Tim Kaine Outlines Plan to ‘Make Housing Fair’

Ally Boguhn

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It's part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Donald Trump made some controversial changes to his campaign staff this week, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted his commitment to better housing policies.

Trump Hires Controversial Conservative Media Figure

Republican presidential nominee Trump made two notable additions to his campaign staff this week, hiring Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon as CEO and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.

“I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” said Trump in a Wednesday statement announcing the hires. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

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Both have been criticized as being divisive figures.

Conway, for example, previously advised then-client Todd Akin to wait out the backlash after his notorious “legitimate rape” comments, comparing the controversy to “the Waco with David Koresh situation where they’re trying to smoke him out with the SWAT teams.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Conway is also “often cited by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations such as the think tank Center for Security Policy and NumbersUSA.”

Under Bannon’s leadership, “mainstream conservative website” Breitbart.com changed “into a cesspool of the alt-right,” suggested the publication’s former editor at large, Ben Shapiro, in a piece for the Washington Post‘s PostEverything. “It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”

Speaking with ABC News this week, Kurt Bardella, who also previously worked with Bannon at Breitbart, alleged that Bannon had exhibited “nationalism and hatred for immigrants, people coming into this country to try to get a better life for themselves” during editorial calls.

“If anyone sat there and listened to that call, you’d think that you were attending a white supremacist rally,” said Bardella.

Trump’s new hire drew heated criticism from the Clinton campaign in a Wednesday press call. “The Breitbart organization has been known to defend white supremacists,” said Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. After pointing to an analysis from the SPLC linking Breitbart to the extremist alt-right movement, Mook listed a number of other controversial positions pushed by the site.

“Breitbart has compared the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust. They’ve also repeatedly used anti-LGBT slurs in their coverage. And finally, like Trump himself, Breitbart and Bannon have frequently trafficked in all sorts of deranged conspiracy theories from touting that President Obama was not born in America to claiming that the Obama Administration was ‘importing more hating Muslims.’”

“It’s clear that [Trump’s] divisive, erratic, and dangerous rhetoric simply represents who he really is,” continued Mook.

Kaine Outlines Plan to “Make Housing Fair”

Clinton’s vice presidential nominee Kaine wrote an essay for CNN late last week explaining how the Clinton-Kaine ticket can “make housing fair” in the United States.

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It’s part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Kaine. “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Kaine shared the story of Lorraine, a young Black woman who had experienced housing discrimination, whom Kaine had represented pro bono just after completing law school.

“This is one issue that shows the essential role government can play in creating a fairer society. Sen. Ed Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, and Sen. Walter Mondale, a white Democrat from Minnesota, came together to draft the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the housing market,” noted Kaine, pointing to the 1968 law.

“Today, more action is still needed. That’s why Hillary Clinton and I have a bold, progressive plan to fight housing inequities across Americaespecially in communities that have been left out or left behind,” Kaine continued.

The Virginia senator outlined some of the key related components of Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” including an initiative to offer $10,000 in down payment assistance to new homebuyers that earn less than the median income in a given area, and plans to “bolster resources to enforce Fair Housing laws and fight housing discrimination in all its forms.”

The need for fair and affordable housing is a pressing issue for people throughout the country.

“It is estimated that each year more than four million acts of [housing] discrimination occur in the rental market alone,” found a 2015 analysis by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

No county in the United States has enough affordable housing to accommodate the needs of those with low incomes, according to a 2015 report released by the Urban Institute. “Since 2000, rents have risen while the number of renters who need low-priced housing has increased,” explained the report. “Nationwide, only 28 adequate and affordable units are available for every 100 renter households with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income.”

What Else We’re Reading

CBS News’ Will Rahn penned a primer explaining Trump campaign CEO Bannon’s relationship to the alt-right.

White supremacists and the alt-right “rejoice[d]” after Trump hired Bannon, reported Betsy Woodruff and Gideon Resnick for the Daily Beast.

Clinton published an essay in Teen Vogue this week encouraging young people to fight for what they care about, learn from those with whom they disagree, and get out the vote.

“In calling for ‘extreme vetting’ of foreigners entering the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested a return to a 1950s-era immigration standard—since abandoned—that barred entry to people based on their political beliefs,” explained USA Today.

Trump wants to cut a visa program “his own companies have used … to bring in hundreds of foreign workers, including fashion models for his modeling agency who need exhibit no special skills,” according to a report by the New York Times.

A Koch-backed group “has unleashed an aggressive campaign to kill a ballot measure in South Dakota that would require Koch-affiliated groups and others like them to reveal their donors’ identities.”

News Law and Policy

California Lawmakers Take Action Against Rampant Wage Theft

Nicole Knight

A survey of people who work for low wages found that wage theft robbed workers of $26.2 million each week in Los Angeles, making the locale the "wage theft capital of the country."

Los Angeles has earned the distinction as the country’s wage theft capital, but a new California law is tackling the rampant problem of wage theft with new enforcement tools.

The law, SB 1342, signed last month by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), gives city and county authorities subpoena powers when investigating wage violations. Until now, the state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement was the primary agency charged with investigating wage theft cases.

State Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) authored the legislation to “ensure that our low-wage workers, who already face many challenges, receive the pay that they have earned,” Mendoza wrote in an Orange County Breeze op-ed.

Wage theft is the illegal practice of failing to pay overtime and minimum wages, denying lunch breaks, or forcing employees to work off the clock. A survey of people who work for low wages by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment found that wage theft robbed workers of $26.2 million each week in Los Angeles, making the locale the “wage theft capital of the country.”

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Some 654,914 workers in L.A. County are subjected to at least one pay-based violation in any given week, researchers noted.

Most people who work low-wage jobs in L.A. were born outside the United States, and the majority are Latino (73.4 percent), Asian (17.9 percent), or Black (6.3 percent), researchers found.

Wage theft is not only illegal, it contributes to food insecurity and housing instability in low-income families, Mendoza noted.

“This bill protects hard-working Californians by clarifying the ability of cities and counties to investigate non-compliance with local wage laws,” Mendoza said.

A legislative analysis of SB 1342 cited research noting that minimum wage violations are rampant in industries such as garment manufacturing, domestic service, building services, and department stores, where wages are low.

The measure comes as states and cities are increasing minimum wages as lawmakers in Congress have refused to consider raising the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Brown in April signed a law lifting the statewide minimum pay rate to $15 per hour by 2022. More than a dozen cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, have proposed or enacted $15 minimum wage rates, according to the National Employment Law Project.

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