On Your Mark, Get Set, Go: The State Race to $15 Minimum Wage


Which state will be the first to reach a $15 hourly minimum wage? Three contenders vie for the distinction, and the determination is somewhat subjective.

The first jurisdiction to reach $15 uniformly within its boundaries is expected to be the District of Columbia, which is arguably a state equivalent with regard to its minimum wage. The $15 hourly minimum wage is to take effect on July 1, 2020.

California and New York are the other top contenders to be among the first states to reach a $15 minimum wage.
However, California is to reach $15 on Jan. 1, 2022, but only for employers with at least 26 employees. The minimum wage would not take effect throughout the state for all employers until Jan. 1, 2023.  In addition, increases may be paused by the governor if certain economic or budgetary concerns exist.

Similarly, New York starts to reach $15 on Dec. 31, 2018, but only for New York City employers with at least 11 workers. When it is to apply to the entire state is unknown. By 2021, all New York City employers and employers in Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester counties, which represent three of the state’s four minimum-wage regions, are to apply a $15 minimum wage. But a statewide $15 hourly minimum wage would not exist in the state until annual inflation-related adjustments that are to start in 2021 in the fourth minimum-wage region—those areas outside of New York City, Long Island, and Westchester—are sufficient to reach $15 from the $12.50 rate that is to take effect Dec. 31, 2020.

Thus, determining the first state to reach $15 depends on the weight given to a jurisdiction’s official status as a state versus jurisdiction. It also depends on the weight given to intrastate minimum wage increases that allow portions of a state to start reaching $15 years before the entire state gets there versus the date when an entire state reflects a $15 minimum wage.
By one measure, the District of Columbia could be the first to reach $15 on July 1, 2020, although it is not a state. By another measure, New York could be the first to reach $15 after adopting the $15 minimum wage Dec. 31, 2018, but only to New York City employers with at least 11 workers. By a third measure, California could be the first to reach $15 when, on Jan. 1, 2023, the $15 minimum wage is applied to all employers.

In contrast to the sparse and somewhat confusing field of states that are to increase minimum wages to $15 are the more numerous localities that are reaching it in 2018 or within several years thereafter. Within 2018, at least five localities in California are to have a $15 minimum wage for certain employers: Berkeley, Emeryville, Mountain View, San Francisco, and Sunnyvale. In 2019, at least seven more California localities are to have a $15 minimum wage for certain employers: Cupertino, El Cerrito, Los Altos, Milpitas, Palo Alto, San Jose, and San Mateo.  Seven more localities are to raise their minimum wages for certain employers to $15 in time periods that range from 2020 to 2024.

Localities with minimum wages that are to exceed $15 include Seattle, Wash.’s minimum wage, which is to reach $15.45 in 2018 for certain employers and Flagstaff, Ariz.’s minimum wage, which is to reach $15.50 by 2022.

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