Washington, DC. Underpaid frontline workers have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, but many can expect a bit of relief in the New Year—in the form of small but welcomed pay raises—thanks to minimum wage increases taking effect in dozens of states and municipalities around the nation.

On January 1st, 20 states and 32 cities and counties will raise their minimum wage. In 27 of these jurisdictions, the wage floor will reach or exceed $15 an hour, according to a report released today by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), which tracks and advocates for minimum wage increases around the country.

The New Year’s increases will be followed by another round of increases later in 2021, when five states and 18 localities will raise their minimum wage—13 of them to $15 or more. In total, 24 states and 50 cities and counties—a record-high 74 jurisdictions—will raise their minimum wage over the course of 2021.[1]

“Despite the pandemic, the Fight for $15 movement continues to gain strength, with more cities and states than ever before raising their wage floors, including dozens of local jurisdictions raising wages to $15 or more,” said Yannet Lathrop, senior researcher and policy analyst with NELP and the report’s author. “These increases are a testament to the power of workers coming together and fighting for what real people and families need,” said Lathrop.

Since Black and brown workers led the first Fight for $15 protest in 2012 outside a McDonald’s in New York City, the movement to raise wages has gained major traction, amassing a series of victories that have yielded more than $68 billion in raises for workers nationwide. These raises are the result of years of advocacy by frontline workers, who fought for and won these wage increases by going on strikes, organizing their coworkers and communities, and demanding to be heard by their elected officials.

But yawning wage and wealth gaps and occupational segregation remain central concerns for Black and brown workers, who continue to face systemic barriers to higher-paying occupations and historically have been shunted into the lowest-paying jobs with the least protections.

One of the biggest victories in 2020 was the historic win for higher wages in Florida. In November, 61 percent of Florida voters approved a ballot initiative to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2026. Florida becomes the eight state (and the second most populous) to get on the path to a $15 minimum wage.

“The victories this movement has amassed are monumental, but the work of winning higher wages is far from over,” said NELP’s Lathrop. “There are 20 states still stuck at the federal floor of $7.25 per hour—with state legislators who refuse to hear their constituents’ pleas. Meanwhile, Congress has refused to raise the federal minimum wage for more than 10 years.”

“As the cost of living and inequality continue to rise, it’s become clear that the wage floor needs to move above $15,” continued Lathrop. “Policymakers at the state and local levels can respond by adopting wage floors that move beyond a bare minimum and come closer to a living wage.”

Lathrop concluded: “We call on the incoming Biden-Harris administration and Congress to really listen and respond to workers’ demands. We are counting on Biden-Harris to deliver a just recovery from this COVID crisis—including finally passing a federal wage floor of $15 or higher.”


Raises from Coast to Coast in 2021

[1] Florida will increase wages twice in 2021 but is counted only once in 2021’s grand total.

This blog originally appeared at NELP on December 31, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.