New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver plans to propose a minimum wage hike on Monday, which would lift the state's wage floor to $8.50 from $7.25 an hour. California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri and New Jersey are also considering minimum wage increases, and Delaware just passed one, as issues of income inequality, poverty, and social mobility continue to grip the national consciousness.
"It is impossible to live in this city on $15,000 a year," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who supports the minimum wage increase, told The New York Times. New York is the sixth most expensive state in the union, reports CNBC. It also has the 15th highest poverty rate, and the most towering level of income inequality, according to the 2009 American Communities Survey -- somewhere between Chile and Honduras, if it was ranked with the world's nations.
The minimum wage in New York is the same as the federal level, which rose by $2.10 between 2007 and 2009. After a decade with a federal minimum wage of $5.15, 83 percent of the American public approved of the increase, according to a 2006 Pew Research Center survey. The real value of the minimum wage had been declining since the late 1960s.
By this point, many states had set higher minimum wages themselves. Today, employers must pay their workers more than the federal minimum wage in 19 states and the District of Columbia. At $9.04 an hour, Washington state offers the highest minimum wage. Georgia and Wyoming offer the lowest--$5.15 an hour--although workers there receive the higher federal figure anyway.
Minimum wage laws provoke many contradictory feelings and facts. After all, they're one of the most serious interventions into the free market in the name of greater income equality. In 2006, over 650 economists, including five Nobel prize winners, and six former presidents of the American Economic Association, signed a statement saying that a federal minimum increase, and modest increases on the state level, "can significantly improve the lives of low-income workers and their families, without the adverse effects that critics have claimed."
The greatest of the supposed "adverse effects" is increased unemployment. Critics argue that a minimum wage increase means an employer can't afford to hire as many people, leading to greater joblessness, and ultimately hurting the Americans that minimum wage laws are intended to help. Research on this subject isn't entirely conclusive, although liberal organizations, like the Economic Policy Institute, cite studies that show no job loss, and conservative think tanks, like The Heritage Foundation, cite studies that show large scale job-elimination.
Opinions on the subject, however, don't split neatly along party lines. In recent years, a nonpartisan coalition, headed by dozens of religious leaders, have pressured Congress to introduce a "living wage." The "$10 in 2010" campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, although at the end of last year San Francisco became the first city to hike its minimum wage above $10 an hour.
The vast majority of Americans support further raising the minimum wage. Three quarters said they thought it would improve economic mobility in a March 2011 Pew Research Center poll. Blacks, Hispanics and young people -- three groups that are disproportionately affected by minimum wage laws -- say this in even higher numbers. There aren't a lot of recent survey results on the minimum wage, however. Pollsters have asked about it less and less over the last 10 years. Like many political issues, the people who are most impacted have the least influence on the political conversation. And it's unlikely that many members of Congress, who have a median net worth of $913,000, have felt the difference that a $1-an-hour wage hike can make.
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