The U.S. has been setting a floor for worker pay ever since President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 and established a minimum wage of 25 cents an hour. Today, federal law requires most workers to be paid at least $7.25 per hour, a threshold that hasn’t been raised since 2009. But 29 states and the District of Columbia have enacted higher minimum wages. See where the lowest-paid workers earn the most.
No. 1: Washington, D.C.
The nation’s capital is home not only to the highest court in the land (the Supreme Court) but also to the highest minimum wage for any U.S. state or territory, at $9.50 per hour. It’s going even higher this summer — to $10.50 an hour. Of course, government leaders in Washington make far more than the minimum. The president is paid $400,000 annually.
No. 2: Washington
The other Washington is close behind D.C., with a minimum wage just a few cents shy of $9.50 per hour. The state’s minimum rose 1.6 percent at the start of 2015; it had been $9.32 an hour. Washington’s largest city, Seattle, plans to go beyond the state requirement by enacting a higher, two-tiered minimum wage this spring: $11 an hour at many companies, including large employers, and $10 at some smaller ones.
No. 3: Oregon
Washington state’s southern neighbor also boosted its minimum wage as 2015 got underway, to $9.25 an hour. That’s up 1.7 percent from Oregon’s old rate of $9.10. For more than 10 years, Oregon and Washington have adjusted their minimum wages automatically each New Year’s Day in step with inflation. Oregon is the only state paying exactly $2 more than the federal minimum wage.
No. 4: Connecticut (tie)
The lowest-paid workers in Connecticut got a 5.2 percent raise at the start of 2015 as the state’s minimum wage rose to $9.15 an hour, from $8.70. A law passed in 2014 is raising Connecticut’s minimum wage in stages, to an eventual $10.10 an hour by January 2017. “Increasing the minimum wage is not just good for workers, it’s also good for business,” Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy said in a statement.
No. 4: Vermont (tie)
The year was ushered in with the first of four annual increases that will elevate the Green Mountain State’s minimum wage to $10.50 an hour by 2018. The initial step lifted the state’s wage floor by about 5 percent, from $8.73 per hour to $9.15. The Vermont House of Representatives had approved a much higher $10.10 minimum wage for 2015, but later compromised with the Senate and governor on a slower-going approach.
No. 6: Massachusetts (tie)
Massachusetts boosted its minimum wage by $1 at the start of 2015, and similar increases in the next two years will take the state’s minimum to $11 an hour by 2017. However, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor calculates that a full-time worker needs at least $11.31 per hour to afford food, housing, transportation and other essentials in the Bay State.
No. 6: Rhode Island (tie)
Like neighboring Massachusetts, Rhode Island kicked off 2015 by raisings its minimum wage by $1, to $9 per hour. The Rhode Island legislation was sponsored by Democratic state Rep. David Bennett. “Our entire economy suffers when the middle class and low-wage earners can’t make ends meet,” he said in a statement. “This raise will provide some measure of assistance for those struggling at the low end of the pay scale.”
No. 6: California (tie)
With Massachusetts and Rhode Island, California is the third state where minimum-wage workers earn $9 per hour. The nation’s most populous state last raised its minimum in summer 2014 and will bump it up again, to $10 an hour, on Jan. 1, 2016. A number of California cities have chosen to go even higher, including San Francisco, where a voter-approved minimum wage of $11.05 per hour took effect at the start of 2015.
No. 9: Alaska (tie)
Alaska is the newest state in the top 10, thanks to a voter-approved raise that took effect Feb. 24. The first increase in five years has taken the state’s minimum wage from $7.75 an hour to $8.75. Another $1 hike is set for 2016. Most Alaskans, including minimum-wage workers, also get some extra money directly from the state: an annual dividend from an oil-wealth fund. The most recent payments were for $1,884.
No. 9: New York (tie)
New York raised its minimum wage 75 cents at the end of 2014, to $8.75 per hour, and will hike it by another 25 cents when 2015 draws to a close. The Empire State doesn’t allow its cities to set their own minimum wages. But New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was able to issue an executive order requiring businesses heavily subsidized by the city to pay a “living wage” of up to $13.13 an hour.
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