One major development in 2015 you’re probably hearing quite a bit about: the minimum wage is set to increase in 21 states. The Guardian’s Jana Kasperkevic and Siri Srinivas offer a nice top of the New Year primer on those states implementing the hikes.
While many of the increases in individual states might seem negligible – if they’re even noticeable – the move presents some very complex twists to the ongoing debate over wage disparity and inequality as the economy is poised to recover strong. There is still a push on Capitol Hill to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10, but that’s a legislative road to nowhere with Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress. We’ll see many Democrats raising it as a steady talking point in 2015, but on the federal level it will amount to nothing more than national figures on the left attempting to chisel a left-friendly profile ahead of presidential elections.
Realistically, the minimum wage debate resonates rhetorically on a national scale, but it’s only operating or finding itself successfully pushed on a state and local scale. A recent Washington-Post/ABC News poll discovered 57 percent of Americans supported a minimum wage hike, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it translates into a federal increase. But, Republican voters are for smaller increases than Democrats. Plus, once the political dynamics of individual House Republican districts are factored in – along with red states – there’s no localized incentive for GOP lawmakers to act since it’s not a threatening policy topic mobilizing formidable opponents back home.
A look at the minimum wage map offers clues on that political wage gap. It’s pretty much identical to the national electoral map of red and blue states, with solidly red states in the South, Midwest and West either maintaining the absolute minimum minimum wage or forgoing any major increases. That explains the reluctance of states in the South to pass any major increases, including Kentucky and Louisiana which face gubernatorial races in 2015. This is not an issue triggering any mass movements in these states, with lawmakers and candidates alike not willing to spend any political capital on it. However, clearly in Northeastern and far Western states with Democratic governors or state legislatures that are faced with highly engaged underserved constituencies, minimum wage increases are an expectation. Still, it’s a complex formula in a Northern state like Pennsylvania which had a Republican governor in 2014 – and even with a new Democratic governor in 2015, the state’s House and Senate are still controlled by the GOP.
A better understanding of where this debate heads into the next year happens with a brief examination of the partisan composition of state legislatures.