Vermont’s minimum wage will rise from $8.73 to $10.50 over the next four years under a bill that won final passage just before the legislative session ended on Saturday. The measure puts Vermont on track to have the highest minimum wage of any state in 2018, higher than a handful of states whose pay floors will rise to $10.10 under laws approved this year.
“I will be proud to sign it,” Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) said of the bill. The final version will phase in the higher wage in order to win nearly unanimous support in both chambers. The state’s minimum wage was already indexed to inflation.
The Green Mountain state is the seventh to enact a minimum wage hike this year and the fourth to crack the $10 mark. Delaware and West Virginia lawmakers raised their wages above $8 an hour. Minnesota raised the minimum wage for most large companies to $9.50. And Hawaii, Maryland, and Connecticut each established $10.10 minimum wages.
The $10.10 number has become a rallying point for lawmakers looking to give low-wage workers a boost. That figure would nearly restore the buying power minimum wage workers have lost to inflation over the past four decades. It would raise nearly 5 million people out of poverty, most of them working adults with bills to pay rather than the teenagers many people imagine when they think of minimum wage workers. President Obama raised his own target from $9 an hour to $10.10 late last year following years of pressure from progressives in Congress. Republican resistance to raising the minimum wage — or, in some cases, to having a minimum wage at all — has stymied those national efforts, however, shunting worker and activist energy off into state and local fights.
Seattle recently announced a plan to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next few years, and numerous other cities have enacted or are considering local wage ordinances. Some conservative state lawmakers and governors have tried to preempt those campaigns by issuing bans on local minimum wage laws. Dozens of states are still set to consider wage hikes through either legislative action or ballot measures this fall.
The energy driving these campaigns comes primarily from workers. After a handful of New York City fast food workers went on strike in late 2012, the walkouts spread across the country in 2013. A wave of fast food strikes hit 100 cities in December. Workers are expected to strike in 150 U.S. cities on Thursday amid solidarity protests in 30 other countries across all six inhabited continents on the planet.
Minimum wage opponents often argue that the laws harm the economy and that businesses oppose them. But six in 10 small business owners in a recent survey support a $10.10 wage floor, and even some larger companies in low-wage sectors have recently signaled support for raising the minimum wage. Academic evidence on the jobs impact of wage hikes is mixed, but there’s substantial reason to believe minimum wages don’t harm job growth — and probably even enhance it.