This Graph Shows Why We Need To Raise The Minimum Wage

CREDIT: Andrew Breiner

Since federal lawmakers last increased the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour in 2009, states, cities, and counties across the U.S. have taken action to raise their wages well above that level. And more states and cities are pushing for new increases.

But even the highest state minimums don’t surpass the $10.10 wage being backed by President Obama and Congressional Democrats, which could lift nearly 5 million Americans out of poverty, reduce the poverty rate by up to 1.7 percent, help the economy by boosting demand, all while adding very little to consumer prices.


CREDIT: Andrew Breiner

The west coast states lead the nation, with Washington’s $9.32 an hour the current highest state minimum wage in the country. California’s minimum will rise to $10 an hour at the start of 2016, likely making it the new highest. Many states, including Oregon, Washington, and seven others require automatic yearly increases to their wage to keep up with inflation and rising consumer prices, meaning it’s less clear where they’ll be in 2016.

A handful of cities and counties have gone far beyond their state’s minimum, with SeaTac, Washington’s $15 an hour wage currently the highest anywhere in the U.S., followed by San Francisco, California at $10.74. SeaTac residents who voted to institute that $15 pay floor remain locked in a complicated battle to have their referendum enforced.

But setting those outliers aside, it’s the bottom end of the state minimum wage graph that really makes the case for raising the federal wage. Nine states have no minimum wage or a lower minimum than the federal level. Many other states only raised their own wage to $7.25 after the federal wage hike required them to pay it anyway. These states aren’t likely to get caught up in the race to pay workers fairly, and will probably require federal action.

$10.10 an hour would bring the minimum wage closer to where it would be if it had kept pace with inflation since the 1960s, about $10.65 an hour, according to a study from the Center for Economic Policy Research. But it’s nowhere near a living wage for supporting a family of four, which ranges anywhere from $17 to $25 depending where you live. And if the minimum wage had kept pace with workers’ productivity gains in recent decades, it would be $22.62 per hour. As the divide between worker productivity and compensation keeps growing larger, even this moderate minimum wage hike could help close the gap and revitalize a fading middle class.