By 2016, Washington, D.C.'s hourly workers could be among the best paid in the country. Tuesday the D.C. Council unanimously approved a bill to raise the city's minimum wage to $11.50/ hour in the next two years.
President Obama applauded the action, and the similar steps taken by New Jersey last month. In his economic address Wednesday, the president called for action to increase the minimum wage, which has remained at $7.25/hour for four years.
"A broad majority of Americans agree we should raise the minimum wage. That's why last month voters in New Jersey decided to become the 20th state to raise theirs even higher. That's why yesterday the D.C. Council voted to do it too. I agree with those voters," Obama said. "I'm going to keep pushing until we get a higher minimum wage for hardworking Americans across the entire country. ... [I]t's well past the time to raise a minimum wage that, in real terms right now, is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office," Obama said. "It will be good for our economy. It will be good for our families. "
An increased federal minimum wage would supersede a state's minimum wage unless the state wage was higher. But given how difficult it could be for a minimum wage bill to make it through a divided Congress, some states have already begun to act.
Here are six states that have taken steps to raise their minimum wage beyond what the federal government requires:
As New Jersey re-elected its governor last month, it also approved a ballot measure to increase the state's minimum wage from the federal $7.25/hour to $8.25/hour.
The measure was approved by a 61 percent majority. Although New Jersey businesses spent a reported $1 million to defeat the measure and convince voters that it would create job loss, the measure's supporters spent more -- $1.3 million -- and held rallies across the state.
Mitch Cahn, a Newark business owner, told NJ.com after the law passed, "A higher minimum wage will actually help business owners by reducing absenteeism and worker turnover, which costs businesses way more than nickel and diming on wages."
Since 1998, Washington has readjusted the minimum wage to keep up with cost-of-living increases. This has brought the state's current minimum wage to $9.19/hour, the highest of any state in the U.S. And it will increase to $9.32/hour in January 2014.
Even more staggeringly, last month Washington voters approved a wage floor of $15/hour for hospitality and transportation workers in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport area.
Washington's neighbor Oregon has the second-highest minimum wage in the nation, at $8.95/hour in 2013.
Like Washington, Oregon also adjusts its minimum wage each year to reflect cost-of-living changes as measured by the Consumer Price Index. For 2014, this adjustment increased the minimum wage another 15 cents, to $9.15/hour, making these Northwest states leaders in hourly worker pay.
By January 2016, hourly employees could also be earning more in the Golden State. In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law to raise the state's minimum wage from the current $8/hour to $10/hour in the next two years.
"It's a special day to stand with workers who are laboring for all of us and laboring at a very low wage. Turning that wage into a $10 an hour wage is a wonderful thing," Brown said at the signing on Sept. 25.
The increase will be split into two increments: from $8/hour to $9/hour in July 2014, and then from $9/hour to $10/hour in January 2016.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo applauded his home state's efforts to raise the minimum wage to $9/hour as a part of the 2013 budget, approved by the New York Legislature last March.
The $135 billion budget included a multi-step plan to raise the minimum wage that had been set at the federal level of $7.25/hour. By the end of 2013, the wage would be raised to $8/hour, to $8.75 by the end of 2014 and to the target $9 by the end of 2015.
"When I took office more than two years ago, New York was at a crossroads, with families and businesses leaving our state and a government that had lost the trust and confidence of the people," Cuomo said in a statement following the legislature's approval. "After years of out-of-control spending, for the third year in a row we have an on-time budget that holds spending growth under 2 percent."
Connecticut was already ahead of the minimum wage curve, but a law signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in August would raise it even higher.
The legislation calls for a two-stage plan to raise wage levels from the current $8.25/hour to $8.70 on Jan. 1, 2014, and then to $9/hour by Jan. 1, 2015, in the state that has the fourth highest cost of living in the nation.
The minimum wage in Connecticut will increase by 75 cents during the next year and a half.
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Massachusetts, South Dakota and Idaho have also spearheaded efforts to raise the minimum wage.
Massachusetts, for one, held a hearing in June to consider a plan to raise the minimum wage by $3 to $11/hour by 2015.
State Sen. Marc R. Pacheco, a sponsor of the bill, called it "long overdue."