If 2014 was the year where the majority of states got on board with a higher minimum wage than the federal level of $7.25 an hour, 2015 was the year the rallying cry for a $15 minimum wage gained serious legislative traction.
This year, three California cities — Emeryville, Los Angeles, and Mountain View — all passed minimum wage increases that will eventually bring them up to $15 an hour. Meanwhile, New York State enacted an eventual $15 minimum wage for its fast food workforce, while Massachusetts enacted one for its home care workers.
Those increases came on top of previous progress: SeaTac and Seattle in Washington and San Francisco in California passed $15 minimums in 2014.
And while not all cities targeted $15 an hour in 2015, a large number of them still passed significant increases. Sacramento, California went to $12.50 and Tacoma, Washington went to $12, while Palo Alto, California and St. Louis, Missouri increased their wages to $11 an hour. Portland, Maine increased its wage to $10.68, while three cities — Birmingham, Alabama; Johnson County, Iowa; and Lexington, Kentucky — all passed $10.10 wages.
These numbers are significant given that in 2012, the highest state minimum wage was about $9 an hour, and most Congressional Democrats were pushing for an increase of the federal wage to $9 or $10.10. A number of factors combined to set lawmakers’ sights higher, including the Great Recession forcing many middle-income people into low-wage work and the Occupy Wall Street movement putting a spotlight on income inequality. But a $15 minimum wage was put on the map by fast food workers, who staged the industry’s first strike in New York City in 2012 and have since spread strikes to 270 cities. The movement has now reached Walmart workers, home health aides, child care providers, and adjunct professors.
And more progress may be ahead in the new year. There are active campaigns for a $15 minimum wage in four states and Washington, D.C., while five cities are also considering it. Democrats in the House and Senate have also introduced a bill to bring the country’s minimum wage up to that level.