Four states vote to push minimum wage up

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Though the presidential results got the most attention Tuesday evening, other down-ballot measures passed as well. Among those affecting employers is minimum-wage hike in four states.

Maine, Arizona, Colorado and Washington all voted to increase the minimum wage to at least $12 an hour by 2020. In the state of Washington, where the minimum wage is $9.47 an hour, voters approved a higher minimum wage, $13.50 an hour by 2020. The measures in Arizona and Washington also require employers to give paid sick leave.

Many industry insiders, including Yannet Lathrop, researcher and policy analyst with National Employment Law Project, expected the measures to pass.

Still, the ballot measures received some pushback from employer groups. For example, in Maine where the current minimum wage is $7.50, there were concerns that raising minimum wage would drive jobs away.

“We recently conducted a study together with the Employees Policy Institute that showed the direct impact that $12 an hour will have on Maine and their numbers are equally alarming as ours,” says the National Federation of Independent Business’ Maine state director, David Clough. “Losing thousands of jobs in our state would send Maine into an economic abyss. Coupling that with a hit at the federal level would negatively impact small businesses throughout the country.”

But NELP’s Lathrop disagrees, noting that small employers tend to pay more in general.

“The higher minimum wages will level the playing field for these smaller employers,” she says. “When it comes down to the everyday reality, you need to look at who’s funding the organizations opposing the minim wage increases, and those tend to be business lobbyists.

Revisiting minimum wage in South Dakota

The conversation in South Dakota had a slightly different spin.

Voters in South Dakota took aim at the minimum wage for the second time in as many years. Voters considered a “referred law” to overturn a state law passed in reaction to a 2014 vote raising the minimum to $8.50, with the wage pegged to inflation.

The initiative was shot down.

Referred Law 20 would have established a youth minimum wage to $7.50 for workers younger than 18, with no inflation adjustments. The ballot measure asked voters to choose between keeping lawmakers’ approach to younger workers, or requiring higher wages for all working teens.

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