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Race to the Top: States Continue to Set New Standards with Minimum Wage Increases

Don’t Google “state pride tattoos.” There are just too many results; it’s overwhelming. But as my “research” proved, competition among states can manifest itself in some really silly ways. Every once in a while, though, that my-state-is-better-than-yours attitude is well earned.

Take, for example, the number of states vying to establish the country’s highest statewide minimum wage. More than once this year, we’ve read headlines that one state or another has climbed to the top – and it just keeps happening. In March, Connecticut was self-high-fiving during its reign. Earlier this month, Vermont snatched the title. And as of this week, Massachusetts is moving into first place.

The Bay State’s bill, which will raise the minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2017, received final lawmaker approval yesterday, and Governor Deval Patrick is expected to sign the legislation soon. Tipped workers will also see an increase in their minimum cash wage, which will rise from $2.63 to $3.75. Read more »

When Will the Minimum Wage Go Up?

It's a fitting question to ask this week, which marks the 75th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the landmark law that established the first federal minimum wage. And it's a particularly important question for women, who make up nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers nationwide.

The answer, though, depends a lot on where you live. A majority of states follow the federal minimum wage, which is not scheduled to rise even though it has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for almost four years — and for tipped workers in states that follow the federal standard, the minimum cash wage has been frozen at a shockingly low $2.13 per hour for more than 20 years. But in states like Washington, Colorado, Ohio, and Vermont, the minimum wage will automatically rise in January 2014 to keep up with inflation, and minimum wage increases recently enacted in New YorkConnecticut, and Rhode Island will also begin to take effect in 2014. 

To make it easy for you to find out what’s happening with the minimum wage in your state, the National Women's Law Center just released this handy interactive map

Find out how the low minimum wage affects women in your state

You can click on any state to see its minimum wage and tipped minimum wage, along with the share of minimum wage workers who are women, the next scheduled increase in the minimum wage, and any recent action on the minimum wage in the state legislature.  Read more »

Vermont: Famous for Maple Syrup, Ben & Jerry's, and Fair Pay

Way to go Vermont! 

Yesterday, Vermont passed a law that deals with a huge barrier to fighting workplace discrimination, punitive pay secrecy policies. Over 61 percent of private-sector workers prohibit or discourage discussions on wages amongst coworkers. Yet, comparing wages is one of the easiest ways to know if you are getting less than your due. When employees don't know how they compare to others, they may not even realize they are being paid less. 

Vermont's law provides crucial elements to remove that barrier. It prevents employers from conditioning employment on an employees' promise not to disclose, inquire, or discuss their wages. Read more »

Vermont’s New Equal Pay Law – A Challenge to Policymakers

Next month is the 50th Anniversary of the Equal Pay Act. And this week Vermont is showing policymakers around the country the best way to mark that day: fixing the equal pay laws. Vermont’s governor has signed a new, comprehensive equal pay law that targets a range of factors that contribute to the wage gap.

The new law takes care of some of the loop holes in Vermont’s equal pay statute, requiring that employers must have business reasons for paying workers unequal wages.

It also improves the process for ensuring that state government contractors are paying fair wages. And it goes after the pay penalty paid by mothers as well – it provides protections for new mothers who must express breast milk for their babies at work and includes protections for employees who request flexible work arrangements. It also sets the stage for a future paid family leave law in Vermont.  

Finally, it importantly bans retaliation against employees who talk about their wages. Read more »

27 Governors Highlight Early Care and Education in State of the State Addresses

Everyone’s ears perked up when President Obama announced his new early childhood education plan at the State of the Union last month. And many noticed when Jon Stewart started talked prekindergarten and the President’s plan on the Daily Show. But the focus on early care and education isn't just happening at the national level: 27 governors across the country — from left, right, and center — signaled that early childhood was a priority for them in their State of the State addresses.

Like the President, these governors (and the Mayor of Washington, D.C.) recognize that investing in children in their earliest years is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. Early care and education helps nurture young children and prepares them for future educational and career success, provides crucial support for parents, and strengthens our nation's economy.

A number of governors called for significant new investments in early care and education to expand access to high-quality early learning opportunities. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said he wanted to "ensure that every child in Massachusetts has access to high-quality early education." Read more »

2012 Brings a Minimum Wage Increase for Workers in 8 States—Especially Women

Here’s a little bit of good news for the new year: more than one million low-wage workers got a raise on January 1, when the minimum wage increased in the eight states that index their minimum wage for inflation. In each of these states (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington), women make up a majority of the workers who will see their paychecks increase this month.  An adjustment for inflation also increased the minimum wage in San Francisco to $10.24 per hour, making it the first large city in the country to require hourly pay above $10.

However, these jurisdictions represent the exception rather than the rule. While another 10 states, the District of Columbia, and some other localities have minimum wages that are set higher than the federal minimum wage, most of their minimum wage rates are fixed and don’t keep pace with inflation. The minimum wage is still below $9.00 an hour in every state but Washington (where it just rose to $9.04/hour). Worst of all, in more than half the states, the minimum wage remains at the federal level, which is just $7.25 an hour.

As the New York Times editorial page highlighted, it’s past time for the federal government to set a higher standard for the states. A woman working full time, year round at the current federal minimum wage will earn just $14,500 annually – that’s more than $3,000 below the federal poverty line for a mother with two children. The value of the federal minimum wage has declined over time; if it had kept pace with inflation since 1968 (when the wage was at its highest mark), it would now be $10.39 per hour. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers is lower still; since 1991, it has been set at just $2.13 an hour, providing an annual base wage of only $4,260 for tipped employees working full time, year round. Read more »