As 2013 drew to a close, the City Council of Washington, DC, became the latest legislative body to pass a minimum-wage increase, offering yet another sign that it may become a fulcrum issue in the year ahead.
On December 17, the DC Council unanimously voted to boost the city’s minimum hourly wage from the current $8.25. It will rise in three stages: to $9.50 in July 2014, $10.50 in 2015 and $11.50 in 2016, when it will be indexed to inflation. The new measure represents one of the biggest increases to the minimum wage in the country.
Leading the successful campaign for higher wages was a coalition of grassroots organizations, activists and community members under the umbrella organization Respect DC. The group initially advocated legislation that would have forced large retail stores in the area to pay employees at least $12.50 an hour, but when that measure was vetoed by Mayor Vincent Gray in September, Respect DC regrouped to push for an increase in the minimum wage across the entire city—an idea floated by the mayor himself.
“We got pretty much everything we had pushed for,” said Mike Wilson, a spokesman for Respect DC. “We’re hopeful this will be a first step toward making DC a place where if you work full time, you’ll be able to take care of yourself and live in the city.” Similar measures were passed in nearby Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, which, Wilson believes, “undercuts the argument” that DC businesses will simply move to surrounding areas with more corporate-friendly labor laws.
With this decision, the District of Columbia joins the growing number of municipalities and states that have responded to the minimum-wage free fall of the last few decades by legislating their own hikes. Additionally, voters have taken matters into their own hands by approving significant increases in the minimum wage in a number of regions, including the entire state of New Jersey this past November, and cities in Washington, New Mexico and California.
At least four different national polls taken since March show that a solid majority of Americans across the political spectrum favor raising the minimum wage. In November, President Obama voiced support for legislation introduced by Democrats that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10—over a dollar more than he suggested in February—and index it to inflation. Republicans, however, remain staunchly opposed.