In recent years, a new wave of state and local activity has transformed minimum wage policy in the U.S. As of August 2018, ten large cities and seven states have enacted minimum wage policies in the $12 to $15 range. Dozens of smaller cities and counties have also enacted wage standards in this range. These higher minimum wages, which are being phased in gradually, will cover well over 20 percent of the U.S. workforce. With a substantial number of additional cities and states poised to soon enact similar policies, a large portion of the U.S. labor market will be held to a higher wage standard than has been typical over the past 50 years.
These minimum wage levels substantially exceed the previous peak in the federal minimum wage, which reached just under $10 (in today’s dollars) in the late 1960s. As a result, the new policies will increase pay directly for 15 to 30 percent of the workforce in these cities and as much as 40 to 50 percent of the workforce in some industries and regions. By contrast, the federal and state minimum wage increases between 1984 and 2014 increased pay directly for less than eight percent of the applicable workforce.
This report examines the effects of these new policies. Although minimum wage effects on employment have been much studied and debated, this new wave of higher minimum wages attains levels beyond the evidential reach of most previous studies. Moreover, city-level policies might have effects that differ from those of state and federal policies. Yet, most of the empirical studies of minimum wages focus on the state and federal-level policies. The literature on the effects of city-level minimum wages is much smaller. Our report helps fill these gaps. (Edited author introduction)