Red States, Blue Policy


Several Republican-leaning states approved minimum wage hikes Tuesday:

In Alaska, an overwhelming 67 percent of voters endorsed a minimum wage increase to $9.75 by 2016. In Arkansas, 65 percent of voters said “yes” to bumping the current minimum of $6.25 (many businesses still had to pay the federal minimum of $7.25) to $8.50 by 2017. Voters were almost as enthusiastic in Nebraska, with 59 percent approving a bump from $7.25 to $9 by 2016. The vote was closer in South Dakota, with 53 percent of supporting a hike from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour by 2015.

The raises happened despite big losses for Democrats in all those states. Late Tuesday just a single Democratic candidate was poised to win a federal election among them, even though the party made the issue a key political priority. Such a strong consensus for raising the minimum wage shows bipartisan support for an issue that has been contentious in Washington, where Obama and many congressional Democrats have backed raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016.

Ben Casselman isn’t that surprised to see red-state voters taking this sort of action:

[It’s] striking to see voters in state after state support raising the minimum wage even as they elect Republicans who, for the most part, oppose such policies. Looked at another way, though, the votes make more sense. In exit polls, voters across the country reported being dissatisfied with the state of the economy. Seven out of 10 voters said the economy is in bad shape, and only 28 percent said their own financial situation had improved over the past four years. Those responses are pretty consistent with the hard data: Wages have been stagnant in the recovery, and median household income is still 8 percent lower than when the recession began seven years ago.

In other words, voters are pessimistic about the economy and want new leadership, hence their support for Republicans. But they’re also worried about their low pay and want to see a higher minimum wage. From a policy perspective, those two votes seem at odds with one another. But they both reflect the same economic frustration.

Mariah Blake adds, “Given how popular the state-level measures were, most conservatives realized that opposing them was futile”:

Jackson T. Stephens Jr., the chairman of the Arkansas Club for Growth, sued to block his state’s ballot initiative on technical grounds but gave up fighting after the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected his challenge. “This is an overwhelmingly popular initiative,” he told the New York Times. “This thing is going to pass whether I jump up and down or spend all my money.”

Danny Vinik tries desperately to find some good news for Democrats:

Senate Republicans have steadfastly blocked the president’s plan to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. In all likelihood, they will continue to do so with Mitch McConnell as majority leader. Even if Senate Republicans somehow compromised with their Democratic counterparts on a smaller increase in the minimum wage, it would still face very long odds in the House.

It’s not hard to see the political problem here. How long can the GOP reject a policy idea that not only has support of both Democrat and Republican voters but has been implemented individually in 29 states, often through ballot measures? … After Tuesday night’s shellacking, the Democrats aren’t in a position to make any demands. But if there is any issue that they can point to and declare victory, it’s the minimum wage. As we turn the pages on 2014 and start thinking about 2016, itand not immigration reformmay pose the biggest political threat to the GOP

Meanwhile, Danielle Kurtzleben notes that inflation will chip away at some of these hikes:

[I]n Arkansas and Nebraska, there’s a catch: The value of those minimum wages will actually decline in subsequent years, because the new wages are not indexed to inflation. Inflation isn’t always a bad thing, but it does erode the value of a fixed hourly wage over time. Minimum-wage advocates often point out that the federal minimum wage suffers from the same problem. Although the value of the minimum wage has gradually been raised to $7.25 per hour, it is actually now worth less than it was in 1968, when adjusted for inflation.

Tuesday’s votes mean that 15 states plus the District of Columbia now either currently index or have plans to link their minimum wages to some type of price index or cost of living formula, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Indexing the minimum wage doesn’t mean that it increases in value every year — rather, it just means the minimum wage maintains the same value as overall prices rise. Without indexing, the roughly $15,100 that a full-time minimum-wage worker earns right now buys less and less each year.

Pre-election analysis of these minimum wage hikes here.