Southern States Largely Excluded from Historic Minimum Wage Increases

2022 marks ten years since the beginning fast food workers in New York first went on strike to demand higher wages, better working conditions, and the right to unionize — sparking the Fight For $15 movement. California is now a leader in the movement. raising its minimum wage $15 an hour, and many other states adopting legislation that will gradually do so.

The ongoing global pandemic has brought attention to the fact workers are underpaid and overworked. continued to strike Union rights and higher wages. In many cases, they are being met.

Fight for 15 has made great strides. This year, a record number states and localities have raised their wages. The National Employment Law Project, (NELP), recently released these numbers. report titled “Raises from Coast to Coast in 2022,” Yannet Lathrop details how on the first day of this year 56 cities, counties, and states across the country raised their minimum wage, with many of these jurisdictions now having a minimum wage that exceeds $15 an hour. 26 additional jurisdictions will raise their minimum wage later in the year.

In the first nine years since its founding, the Fight for $15 movement resulted in “$150 billion in higher pay for 26 million workers,” Lathrop notes.

However, these victories are not shared equally by all workers. “Twenty states have refused to raise their wage floors above the federal rate for over a decade,” as Lathrop points out. “Roughly half of those states are in the U.S. South, where a majority of Black workers live, and where, not surprisingly, they experience higher levels of poverty and downward economic mobility.”

Only Florida and Virginia are among the 80 jurisdictions that will increase their salaries this year out of the 13 Southern States. Both states were among the 11 that have passed legislation to gradually increase their minimum wage to $15 an hr. Virginia increased its minimum wage to $11 an hr at the start of the new year from $9.50. This results in a $3,120 annual wage increase for a full-time worker earning minimum wage. according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). In September, Florida’s minimum wage will also increase to $11 an hour.

Eight Southern states, however, have minimum wages equal or higher than the federal minimum $7.25. This is insufficient to lift a family of 2 above the poverty level: Alabama, Kentucky Louisiana Mississippi, North Carolina South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Georgia’s minimum wage is just $5.15 an hour, so the federal standard applies in most cases.

EPI claims that the federal minimum wages have been increasing in purchasing power since 2009, when it was last raised. declined by more than 21%This has further exacerbated the inequity among states that have raised minimum wages and those that don’t. Thirty-six states have minimum wage levels higher than $7.25. However, only four Southern states have these minimum wages: Arkansas Florida Virginia West Virginia.

Southern states also have disproportionately high rates of passed preemption laws that bar local jurisdictions from raising their wages higher than the state’s minimum. So while 39 cities and counties across the country have minimum wages that are higher than the state’s, none of these localities are in the South.

According to an article in the nonpartisan Berkeley Political Review, “if minimum wage growth had tracked the growth in workers’ productivity since 1968, the minimum wage would be $18.42, more than double the federally mandated minimum wage.”

Although some employers in Southern States have raised their wages to combat the COVID-19 pandemics, most of these increases have been in the health care sector or at universities. Despite the fact that COVID-19 cases are increasing, frontline workers remain disproportionately underpaid. Tip workers are an example. 16 states — 10 of them in the South — risk their lives for the federal tipped minimum wage of just $2.13 an hour.

Nearly 1 million restaurant workers have been affected by these conditions. leave their jobs since December 2019This was just before the pandemic. Others have stated that they will only stay if they get a living wage.

According to the EPI, federal legislation such the Raise the Wage Act that was introduced in Congress last year by Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is a “smart policy choice” made even more urgent by rising consumer prices. This legislation has not yet been introduced.

“The longer Congress waits to enact an increase, the larger that increase will need to be to establish an adequate wage floor,” EPI noted.