The minimum wage would be about $20 in the United States today if it had kept pace with productivity growth since the 1970s. Marginally higher minimum wages than the $7.25 federal level are therefore inadequate, but they do represent some gains.
At the beginning of 2018, 18 states will increase their minimum wage, providing over $5 billion in additional wages to 4.5 million workers across the country. In a majority of these states, minimum wage increases (ranging from $0.35 in Michigan to $1.00 in Maine) are the result of legislation or ballot measures approved by voters in recent years. Eight of these states (Alaska, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, and South Dakota) will have smaller automatic increases that adjust the minimum wage to keep pace with price growth. This automatic inflation adjustment preserves the buying power of the minimum wage, which has steadily eroded over time.
Increasing the minimum wage is a crucial tool to help stop growing wage inequality, particularly for women and people of color who disproportionately hold minimum wage jobs. As low-wage workers face a growing number of attacks on their ability get a fair return on their work, Congress should act to set a higher wage floor for working people.