On Election Day, in four very different states— Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington—voters approved ballot measures to bump up the minimum wage to at least $12 by 2020, which will directly benefit around two million workers.
That's an increase from $7.50 today in Maine, $8.05 in Arizona, and $8.31 in Colorado. In Washington, Seattle has already approved a $15 minimum wage, but the new measure will raise the wage throughout the rest of the state from $9.47 to $13.50.
"This really reinforces what we know—that there's very strong support among the general public for raising the minimum wage, and there's also strong support in the business community for raising the minimum wage," says Holly Sklar, CEO of an organization called Business for a Fair Minimum Wage. "And you can see it across the country and across the political spectrum."
There's a clear business case for supporting the increase. "To put it in the most basic terms, workers are also customers," says Sklar. "Some of the political opposition against raising the minimum wage often acts like workers and customers are like two different species of people."
In fact, she says, the lowest-wage workers are most likely to turn around and immediately spend any increase in wages, because they need it for basic necessities. That benefits the economy.
A low minimum wage also correlates with high turnover. "People are just constantly looking to get out," she says. "They're not invested in the business for the long haul, and they know the business isn't invested in them." Companies end up spending more hiring and training new workers, there's often more wasted product, customers are less happy with service, and managers are distracted from focusing on how to improve their business.
"It's very short-sighted in the sense that you're not saving money," she says. "You're spending it in what we would say is the wrong places."
Even businesses with fiscally conservative owners are supporting an increase in wages—because they realize that if workers aren't paid enough, they'll have to turn to public assistance. "It puts this growing strain on the safety net," says Sklar. "So you end up in a situation where the business owner that is paying enough for their workers to live on...they're in a sense, along with other taxpayers, being asked to subsidize wages that are too low."
It's too early to say whether the incoming administration will attempt an increase in the federal minimum wage, though Republicans in Congress haven't wanted to do that in the past. Sklar expects more state and local action, though she says that alone isn't enough.
"There are states that are tied to the federal minimum wage, there are states that have no minimum wage of their own, there are states where there is no prospect of raising the min wage," she says. "So it's very important that the federal government acts. However, it's also important that states, cities, businesses, don't wait to raise the wage."