Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.
The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $5.15 per hour for over eight and a half years. If Congress fails to pass an increase by December of this year, it will be the longest stretch of stinginess in American history.
The states are sick of waiting.
In February, Rhode Island became the eleventh state in the past sixteen months to raise its minimum wage. HB6718 passed 36-2 in the Rhode Island Senate and 60-11 in the House, hiking the state's minimum to $7.40 by the start of 2007. Gov. Donald Carcieri had threatened to veto the bill, but facing overwhelming opposition, dropped his effort and signed it into law.
"Rhode Island is the latest in what's shaping up to be a minimum wage revolution in the states," says Jen Kern, director of ACORN's Living Wage Resource Center. "I can only count four states that don't already have a higher minimum wage and haven't introduced legislation in the last year."
Thanks to grassroots efforts of organizations like ACORN, the National Council of Churches, and hundreds of community groups, wage hikes in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and North Carolina also seem likely in the near future.
Meanwhile, ballot initiatives for minimum wage increases in 2006 could emerge in as many as eleven states. An initiative is already on the ballot in Nevada, and states such as Arizona, Ohio, Michigan, and Montana are in the midst of collecting signatures. For more information on how to get involved in your state, click here.
Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation's new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.