Congress may be lukewarm on raising the minimum wage, but Americans continue to show that they’ll raise it on their own if you give them the chance.
Voters in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington state approved ballot initiatives on Tuesday to increase their state minimum wages, according to early projections.
In addition to raising the minimum wage, the measures in Arizona and Colorado will require businesses to provide employees with paid sick days.
Ballot measures have become a popular way to raise the minimum wage at the local level. Congress hasn’t raised the federal minimum wage in years, leaving it at $7.25 per hour since 2009. But more and more states are choosing to enact their own, higher minimum wages that supersede the federal rate, with ballot measures providing a way to get around state legislatures. Voters in four red states all approved minimum wage measures in the 2014 midterm elections.
The ballot measures tend to succeed because Americans, by and large, like the idea of raising the minimum wage. While Democrats resoundingly support such hikes, a substantial share of Republican and independent voters tend to back them as well, even if Republican lawmakers do not. Polls in the four states considering ballot measures this year all showed a strong likelihood they would pass.
The most ambitious of the minimum wage proposals was Washington’s, which would gradually raise the wage floor from $9.47 per hour to $13.50 by 2020. The other states would all raise theirs to $12 by the same year. Arizona’s minimum wage is currently $8.05, Colorado’s $8.31 and Maine’s $7.50.
Paid sick days are also popular among the general public. Unlike most other advanced nations, the U.S. does not guarantee paid leave for workers, leaving it as a voluntary benefit offered by employers. But a growing number of cities and states have opted to make sick days mandatory, often through ballot initiatives such as the ones in Arizona and Colorado.
Labor unions have been the biggest funders of minimum wage and sick-day measures, often dumping out-of-state money into the efforts. The opposition to them has come mainly from business lobbies, particularly those for restaurants, which want to keep the minimum wage as low as possible. A campaign called The Fairness Project, funded largely by the Service Employees International Union, helped coordinate the four measures on the ballot Tuesday.
Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of The Fairness Project, said last week that ballot initiatives “can bypass broken politics” by letting voters implement minimum wage raises that their state legislators won’t pass. “[Voters] are tired of waiting and they are taking matters into their own hands through direct democracy,” Schleifer said.
This post has been updated to include the results in Colorado, Maine and Washington state.