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Voters in 5 states are deciding whether to boost their minimum wage

The map below shows what state minimum wage laws look like right now: a patchwork of states either overriding the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour, sticking to the federal minimum, or slinking below. Today's election will likely turn that map a little greener, with five states voting on ballot measures aimed at boosting their minimum wages.

State minimum wage map

Source: Labor Department

What’s going on in these five states? Will these measures pass? Will a modest wage bump in cheap Arkansas feel just as big as a larger hike in the more expensive Alaska? And why will one of these ballot measures do absolutely nothing, even if it’s passed? For a rundown of the minimum wage possibilities, read on.


What's on the ballot? In Alaska, the minimum wage is currently $7.75, but the new measure would bump it up to $8.75 in 2015. After that, it would increase to $9.75 per hour in 2016, and then it would be adjusted for inflation.

How does that look when you take Alaska's cost of living into account? If you adjust that $8.75 for regional price parities (a way of measuring cost of living) as reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, it brings that down considerably, to $8.17 per hour. Likewise, $9.75 becomes $9.10 per hour (these and all following figures are only approximate calculations, however — that cost of living data measures prices as of 2012).

Will it pass? Probably. As of November 2, 63 percent of Alaska voters approved of the measure, compared to 33 percent who disagreed, according to Public Policy Polling. And it has bipartisan support. According to Ballotpedia, it has the support of both Republican and Democratic candidates for the US House.


What's on the ballot? Arkansas' minimum wage hike is the most modest of all these: it would bump the hourly minimum wage to $8 in 2015 and $8.50 in 2016.

How does that look when you take Arkansas' cost of living into account? Yes, those proposed hikes are modest, but Arkansas is a very cheap state, so it would bump the value of those wages considerably. $8 by national standards is something closer to $9.13, and $8.50 is around $9.70.

Did it pass? Yes, according to the latest projections.


What's on the ballot? Illinois is the odd man out on this list, as its ballot initiative won't itself change anything. The Illinois measure to raise the state minimum wage from $8.25 to $10 per hour is non-binding without the state legislature taking up a minimum-wage bill.

How does that look when you take Illinois' cost of living into account? Not much. $8.25 translates to around $8.20 using the Commerce Department's data, and $10 equals around $9.94.

Did it pass? Yes, according to the latest projections — but it won't immediately change anything.

Gov. Quinn has said he hopes the measure would inspire the legislature to pass a minimum wage hike, as reported by the Huffington Post. Democrats in the legislature had failed to pass such a measure before. The governorship, though, is currently a dead heat between incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn and Republican Bruce Rauner. The minimum wage has become a central issue in this race — Quinn advocates the hike and has often emphasized Rauner's past statements that the state should lower its minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. Rauner has since said he would advocate raising the minimum wage as long as it came along with "pro-business reforms."


What's on the ballot? The measure would bump Nebraska's minimum wage from $7.25 — the federal minimum — to $8 in 2015 and $9 in 2016.

How does that look when you take Nebraska's cost of living into account? Nebraska is also a relatively cheap state. When compared to the national cost of living, $8 feels more like $8.87, and $9 is like $9.99.

Did it pass? Yes, according to the latest projections.

South Dakota

What's on the ballot? South Dakota currently has a minimum wage of $7.25. This measure would raise it to $8.50 per hour. In addition, it would raise the minimum wage for tipped workers (such as waiters) from $2.13 to $4.25 per hour.

How does that look when you take South Dakota's cost of living into account? South Dakota is also a very cheap place to live. $7.50 there feels like $8.50 when you compare it to the national price level, $8 becomes $9.07, and $8.50 becomes $9.64.

Will it pass? Probably. According to an October poll from Survey USA, 60 percent of likely voters in South Dakota were in favor of boosting the wage, compared to 28 percent opposed, as the Aberdeen News reported.


The common bond in all of these is that they all have good chances of passing. The four binding minimum wage measures listed above are all primed to pass, despite the fact that these states are all red states. As the Wall Street Journal has noted, all 10 proposed minimum wage measures on state ballots since 2002 have passed.

That's remarkable because the minimum wage is a divisive partisan issue. When the CBO in February released a report saying that a nationwide $10.10 minimum wage would lead to a decline of around 500,000 workers, conservatives pounced and liberals went on the defensive.

But despite these apparent partisan divides in the US, Republican voters aren't entirely against minimum wage hikes. While Democrats tend to broadly support a higher wage, Republicans don't always disagree — indeed, they're roughly evenly split. As Politico points out, a recent Pew poll found that 53 percent of Republicans favored a $10.10 minimum wage, alongside 90 percent of Democrats.

That $10.10 would make life far more livable for a minimum wage worker. A $7.25 minimum wage at 40 hours per week would make for less than $15,100 per year. At $10.10, that annual pay bumps to just over $21,000. That kind of a hike would mean boost lots more hourly-wage workers, as there are many between the $7.25-$10.10 range and their wages would be pushed up to meet the new minimum.

Currently, 3.3 million workers work at or below the minimum wage, according to the Labor Department, or around 2.6 percent of the workforce. The CBO has estimated that a $10.10 increase could raise the wages of 16.5 million people.

Correction. This article earlier misstated that all states with these measures are red states. While that's true of the states where the measures could change the wage, Illinois, where the measure is non-binding, isn't really all that red.

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