West Virginia Just Gave Tens Of Thousands Of Workers A Raise

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) CREDIT: AP/RANDY SNYDER
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) CREDIT: AP/RANDY SNYDER

Tens of thousands of West Virginia workers will get a raise next year thanks to the minimum wage hike that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) signed into law Tuesday.

The state’s minimum wage will rise from the current federal rate of $7.25 an hour to $8 at the start of 2015 and then to $8.75 in 2016. West Virginia will be the 22nd state to have a higher minimum wage than what federal law requires. It is the third state to enact a pay hike this year, on the heels of increases in Delaware and Connecticut. Connecticut’s new minimum of $10.10 will be the highest in the nation.

In West Virginia, a more modest wage hike will still lift earnings for the 22,000 of the state’s 446,000 hourly workers who currently earn minimum wage, and tens of thousands more who currently earn above $7.25 but below $8.

This latest state wage hike is unlikely to be the last, given the scope of state level minimum wage campaigns in 2014. More than 30 states will see either legislative or ballot initiative pushes for a higher pay floor this year. The campaigns have spread beyond traditionally liberal states to places like Louisiana, which has never had a minimum wage law, and Arkansas, which currently has a minimum wage lower than the federal one.

That state momentum owes in part to a Republican blockade at the federal level. Progressive lawmakers have attempted to introduce a $10.10 minimum wage, and President Obama even got on board with that push late last year. About sixty percent of small business owners support a $10.10 minimum wage. But prominent conservative lawmakers oppose not just that specific wage level but the very concept of a minimum allowable pay rate.

A $10.10 minimum wage would lift about 5 million people out of poverty and save the government tens of billions of dollars each year in public assistance program spending. It would also restore the buying power that minimum wage workers have lost to inflation since the 1960s. Most of those people are adults, and many have dependent children to support on a threadbare paycheck.