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Florida is the most conservative state yet to approve a $15 minimum wage

REUTERS/Maria Alejandra Cardona
Voters in Miami.
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Florida is the eighth state to adopt an eventual $15-an-hour pay floor, joining California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York—plus Washington DC, according to the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. The Amendment 2 proposition calls for gradually raising the state minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026.

Raising the minimum wage is generally popular among American voters. Florida is the only conservative-leaning state to pass a $15 minimum wage, but that follows voters in other red states that have enacted minimum-wage increases in recent years, including Missouri, Arizona, and Arizona, which approved $12 minimum wages through ballot initiatives in 2016 and 2018.

Whenever a minimum-wage increase is put to voters to decide, it passes, says David Cooper, senior analyst at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. The results in Florida, where the $15 wage floor passed with nearly 61% of the vote, “signals to federal lawmakers that this is an issue that they can’t ignore,” Cooper adds.

Last year, the US House of Representatives passed a plan to gradually lift the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, but the Republican-controlled Senate refused to take it up. The federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 since 2009; US presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign has signaled support for raising the federal wage to $15 an hour.

With Florida’s result, 43% of the US workforce will be in states with minimum wages climbing to $15 or more, EPI’s Cooper says.

Many local governments also have increased minimum wages. At least 21 cities, including San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles, have raised their hourly wage floors to $15 or more. Meanwhile, five states—Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee— have not adopted a state minimum wage.

With Florida heavily reliant on tourism and service sector jobs, lots of workers would get a raise from the measure. A report from the Florida Policy Institute found the new amendment would raise the wages of 2.5 million Floridians, or more than 26% of the state’s workforce. (The current minimum wage in the state is $8.56.) But the pandemic has hit the leisure and hospitality industry hard, so it’s not clear how the raise will impact employment in Florida.

Economists have long debated the pros and cons of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The Congressional Budget Office estimated it could boost the wages of 17 million low-wage workers and lift 1.3 million workers out of poverty. It also suggested the US economy could shed 1.3 million jobs. Bloomberg opinion columnist Michael R. Strain, an economist at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, recently wrote that a $15 wage floor would set back the economic recovery, and quibbled with Biden’s argument, made during the presidential debates, that there is “no evidence” that raising the minimum wage would put employers out of business.

“He’s right that evidence is limited on what a $15-per-hour minimum wage would do to workers and businesses. That’s because it is such a high minimum that few states and localities have tried it,” Strain noted.

Maybe so. But the Nov. 3 outcome in Florida suggests a growing number of voters are plenty open to the idea.

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