Connecticut hikes minimum wage to highest in nation

A man walks through a grocery store in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
A man walks through a grocery store in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Congress has yet to act on Democrats' proposal to raise the minimum wage, but one state isn't waiting around.

Connecticut's legislature voted on Wednesday to raise the state's minimum wage from $8.25 per hour to $10.10. The federal minimum wage proposal endorsed by President Obama would also raise base pay up to $10.10.

Democrats have been talking about the need for a hike in the minimum wage for months, but the chances that such a proposal will make it through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives appear as slim as ever. Instead, the real movement has been coming from the state and local level. Connecticut is only the latest in a string of state legislatures and city councils to give low-wage workers the boost denied to them by the federal government.

Although Connecticut's minimum wage is now the highest state-level minimum wage in the nation, some municipal governments have raised the wage floor even higher. The most dramatic example is SeaTac, Washington, where voters recently approved a referendum to raise the minimum wage up to $15 per hour. Last week, 87% of Chicago voters signed off on a non-binding proposal to match SeaTac's minimum wage. Other cities considering a $15 wage include Seattle and San Francisco.

Advocates for a higher federal minimum wage hope that the wave of state and local legislation will light a fire under Congress.

“It’s hard to overstate the significance of Connecticut passing a minimum wage increase to $10.10 per hour – not only will this deliver a much-needed boost to workers and the state’s economy, but it also provides an example for other states across the country to follow as Congress continues to drag its feet on passing a minimum wage increase at the federal level," said National Employment Law Project Executive Director Christine Owens, in a statement.

While $10.10 matches Obama's proposal for a federal minimum wage, the $15 demand seems to have caught on in large part due to the grassroots agitating of low-wage workers. The fast food strikes that have now taken place in more than 100 U.S. cities all share two key demands: the right to form a union and a base wage of at least $15 per hour.

Kshama Sawant, the Seattle city council member and self-described socialist who is pushing for a $15 wage hike in her city, explicitly cites the fast food strikers as an influence.

Watch Hardball for more on the minimum wage fight: