The Red/Blue State Divide Continues to Widen

When we talk about the red/blue state divide, it is usually in reference to things like the electoral college or the party that controls governorships and state legislatures. But increasingly, we are seeing that divide widen in terms of how policy differences impact the residents of different states.

For example, much has been made of the economic mess created in red states like Kansas and Louisiana. When the Supreme Court allowed states the option to chose whether or not to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, the gap widened in terms of the number of people who are uninsured. Again, as a result of a Supreme Court decision, red states are passing laws that impede the right to vote. They are attempting to defund Planned Parenthood and restrict a woman’s right to chose. In trying to pass laws that allow people to discriminate against LGBT Americans, they are continuing to run into trouble with businesses and sports/entertainment industries. But I suspect they’ll keep trying.

Meanwhile, we can make comparisons like the one I did about how a Democratic-run state like Minnesota is out-performing a Republican-run state like Wisconsin – even though they share a lot in common. It turns out that doing things like improving educational opportunities, providing health insurance for those who can’t afford it, giving women access to reproductive health services, enhancing citizen’s access to voting, and supporting equal rights for everyone doesn’t create a socialist dystopia – but environments where people tend to thrive.

Now we’re watching some of the divide widen even more. For example, look what’s happening with the minimum wage lately.

Seattle’s minimum wage is now rising toward fifteen dollars per hour (for some workers, it is already at thirteen dollars), and during this election season the Fight for 15 has suddenly become not a fringe movement but a mainstream one…In December, Rahm Emanuel, the embattled Chicago mayor, signed a law that will push the minimum wage to thirteen dollars per hour by 2019. And yesterday, California lawmakers passed a measure that will lift the state’s minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour by 2022. Hours later, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators announced that they had reached a deal to get to fifteen dollars an hour, and by as soon as 2018 in New York City. Combined, the New York State and California labor forces are roughly as large as France’s.

Here is what Rebecca Traister reports on paid family leave.

You say you want a revolution? A political, social, economic policy upheaval that will dramatically alter the playing field for millions of Americans by significantly reducing economic and gender inequality?

Don’t look to the presidential campaign. Look closer to home.

On the last day of March, the New York State legislature finalized a budget deal that included not only a promise to raise the minimum wage to $15, but also the nation’s newest — and by far its strongest and most comprehensive — bill mandating paid-family-leave time for most employees.

That means that New York has just become the fifth state — after California, which passed its family-leave insurance program in 2002 and implemented it in 2004, New Jersey (2009), Rhode Island (2014) and Washington (which passed its measure in 2007 but has not yet put it into effect) — to mandate paid leave. And compared to its progressive predecessors, New York’s bill is startlingly robust.

One way to look at all of this is to worry about the growing divide these kinds of developments suggest. But it is possible that – as we’re beginning to see with Medicaid expansion – it will grow increasingly difficult to stop the long slow march of progress in red states. We’ll have to see how that one plays out.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.