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On a Bleak Night for Progressives, Minimum Wage Hikes a Big Winner

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Investment & Markets
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Donald Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton – in the Electoral College, where it counts – capped off a night that largely repudiated progressive values. The Senate and House remain under Republican control, and the GOP scored a higher percentage of governorships across the country. Trump’s victory was largely fueled by disaffected white working class workers who feel forgotten by the 21st century economy.

But both blue and red workers in four very different states will benefit economically after Tuesday night’s returns: voters approved initiatives that will raise their states’ minimum wage over the next few years. And in reliably red South Dakota, over 70 percent of voters shot down a proposal to reduce the “training wage” for workers under 18 to $7.50 an hour.

In Arizona, Colorado and Maine, the minimum wage will reach $12 an hour by 2020. Arizona, long a red state that narrowly favored Trump as of press time, witnessed Proposition 206 passing easily with almost 59 percent of the vote. The state’s minimum wage will rise incrementally annually through 2020; beginning in 2021, that wage will then be adjusted based on increases in cost of living. Workers relying on tips for income can earn a minimum wage that is $3 an hour less, but only if the employer can prove that gratuities pushed their earnings at or above that lowest rate.

(On an issue totally unrelated to the minimum wage, Phoenix-area voters gave progressives another gift: controversial Maricopa County Sheriff and Trump surrogate Joe Arpaio lost his bid for reelection.)

Swayed by proponents who insisted Colorado’s cost of living has made its current $8.31 minimum wage untenable, the Centennial State’s voters passed Amendment 70 with 54 percent of the vote. Several business groups opposed the measure, including the Colorado Restaurant Association, which claimed the eventual wage increase to $12 an hour would disproportionately harm the food service sector. Supporters, however, said a higher wage would reduce dependence on public assistance, an argument the Denver Post said ended up swaying many voters.

Maine also jumped on the minimum wage bandwagon, passing Question 4 by 55 percent and giving workers a raise to $12 an hour. The argument for fairness and a more equitable economy led voters to pass the measure; political action groups supporting the increase outspent their opponents by over a five-to-one ratio.

At face value, Washington hourly workers look to be the big winner, though the cost of living in the Seattle area will still make it a tough place to survive as a minimum wage earner. I-1433 will increase the Washington’s minimum wage to $13.50 an hour. The initiative passed easily, with 59 percent of the vote. This corner of the Pacific Northwest has long been a trendsetter on hourly wages; in 1998 voters approved a measure that linked minimum wage increases to inflation.

Opponents of a higher minimum wage, or any minimum wage at all, describe such measures as job-killers. But as John T. Harvey explained on Forbes, the evidence supporting such outcomes are scant at best. Proponents have long pressed the issue of fairness, but as the voting results in these four states reveal, arguments suggesting that higher wages can reduce reliance on public assistance swayed citizens in both liberal and conservative states.

Supporters of Trump voted for him in part because they wish to return to the halcyon days of when someone could just graduate out of high school and get a job in manufacturing. This is especially true in Michigan, where today’s scarce employment in auto factories nudged Trump to a narrow victory in that state. Indeed, the industry’s shift to right-to-work employment and overseas factories have led to a decline of manufacturing jobs in this sector. But the fact is that for decades, automation has long been the driving factor in job loss.

The U.S. is still a manufacturing powerhouse; but this country is only making high-end, sophisticated goods, and the growth in automation results in far fewer workers employed than in decades past. Hence the shift to the service economy, a long transition that has been a painful one for many American workers. Minimum wage increases are one tool that this country’s leaders can use to ensure that this 21st century economy is one that provides economic security to the people who need it the most.

Image credit: Fibonacci Blue/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

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