The minimum wage is going up in states across the country, and that could spell trouble for the GOP.
As a growing number of states move to raise their minimum pay above the federal level in 2014, Democrats have an opportunity to capitalize on the issue as a winning campaign strategy in a competitive midterm election year.
Thirteen states will increase their minimum wages on Jan. 1, USA Today reports, and as many as 11 states plus the District of Columbia are expected to weigh similar increases in the months ahead. According to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), more than half of those 11 will likely raise their minimum wage requirements in 2014.
Meanwhile, the White House and congressional Democrats are circling a populist campaign narrative centered around raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2015. President Obama floated the issue at the beginning of the year in his State of the Union address, but Republican leaders swiftly countered that such legislation would hamper small businesses and hurt the economy.
“When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it,” said House Speaker John Boehner in a February press conference. “At a time when the American people are still asking the question, ‘Where are the jobs?’ why would we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people?”
When paired with the GOP-led initiative to halt unemployment benefits for over 1 million Americans, Democratic strategists are hoping the higher minimum wage message would overcome heavy criticism the party has faced for the flawed Affordable Care Act rollout. Despite a December signup surge, enrollment numbers still remain well below pre-launch projections, and Republicans see the shortcomings as a winning ticket for the midterm elections.
It is still not yet certain, however, that Republican lawmakers would necessarily oppose legislation raising the federal minimum wage, given its popularity among voters. Sixty-three percent of Americans said they supported raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 in an NBC/WSJ poll this month, including 59% of independents, and 47% of Republicans. And in at least 100 cities this year, fast-food workers have staged protests calling for a living wage and the right to form unions.
A total of 21 states will have minimum wages higher than the federal requirement come Jan. 1–including Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Democratic campaign officials and liberal activists are working to put minimum wage hikes on the ballot next year in states like Arkansas, Alaska, and South Dakota. By the end of 2014, the NELP expects a majority of states will have minimum pay above the federal level for the first time in history.