Oct. 5, 2004--In Maine, where the minimum wage is already well above the federally mandated level of $5.15 an hour, the state plans to ratchet it up another dime on Friday to $6.35 an hour.
Maine is one of 12 states that currently have laws boosting their minimum wages above the federal standard of $5.15 an hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Several of these states are planning additional increases. Illinois, which broke with the federal standard last January when it instituted a 35-cent increase, will raise its statewide hourly minimum wage by another dollar to $6.50 on Jan. 1, 2005. That same day, Washington State will increase its hourly minimum to $7.35, the highest in the nation. And after Friday's planned hike, Maine plans another increase to $6.50 in October 2005. Others states are looking at the issue as well.
Proponents of individual state increases claim that the current federal minimum wage, which has not changed since 1997, cannot realistically support many of those who earn it. Critics charge that wage hikes saddle businesses with high labor costs, particularly in manufacturing and service industries, forcing many to lay off workers or move to neighboring states.
"It's a common issue at the state level because of the differences in the cost of living from state to state, as well as the fact that the federal government hasn't raised its minimum wage in seven years," said Justin Marks, a policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures, a research organization. "It's a very partisan issue that depends largely on the makeup of each state's legislature and who is governor of that state."
In California, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently vetoed a bill approved by the Democratic California Legislature that would have raised the minimum wage to $7.75 an hour from its current minimum of $6.75. Similarly, in New York, which still abides by the federal standard, the State Senate voted to approve a minimum wage of $7.15 an hour, but Republican Gov. George Pataki vetoed the bill in July.
There are also some signs of change on the federal level. In April, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced legislation to raise the nationwide minimum wage to $7 an hour. On his website, presidential candidate John Kerry supports a similar increase to ensure that the minimum wage keeps up with the cost of living. President George W. Bush does not address the issue on his website. Regardless of who wins the presidency, any such bill would likely face difficult hurdles if Republicans retain control of both houses of Congress after the November elections.