Supporters Hope Minimum-Wage Votes Will Push Democratic Turnout
During political campaigns, many dollar figures get tossed about as candidates discuss the national debt, the deficit, and taxes.
But in some states, this could be the figure that will matter most: $7.25.
That's the amount minimum-wage workers get paid per hour under federal law. Polls show voters overwhelmingly support a higher wage, and 28 states and the District of Columbia already have passed laws forcing employers to pay more than the national minimum.
In this election cycle, voters in Arizona, Colorado, and Maine are being asked to raise the minimum wage gradually to $12 an hour by 2020. In Washington, voters are deciding whether to hike the wage in steps to $13.50 by 2020.
Democratic strategists are hoping these ballot measures will not only push up incomes but also call attention to Republican opposition to minimum-wage increases. Congressional Republicans have blocked attempts to increase the federal wage floor, which last rose in 2009.
Democrats believe that voters who otherwise might not follow politics will care about their paychecks — and turn out on Election Day. That voter surge might also boost Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Ana Temu, state director of Colorado Latinos Rise, a progressive political action committee, says wage initiatives will motivate many voters of Latino heritage, particularly in the battleground states of Colorado and Arizona.
"They're not going out to specifically vote for Clinton, but they are going out to the polls to make a change for their community and that's the minimum wage," she said.
Annette Gonzales, a retired child care provider in Pueblo, Col., said that's true for her. She has not followed presidential politics closely but she is eager to vote for the minimum-wage hike to help her neighbors pay for child care and transportation.
"It would raise their standard of living, give them some pride, enable them maybe to own a vehicle instead of always having to catch a bus," Gonzales said.
The National Employment Law Project Action Fund, a group that advocates for higher wages, issued a report this month saying that this election offers "a historic opportunity" to turn over Republican Senate seats.
"In the 24 states where Republicans are hoping to retain Senate seats in 2016, more than 27 million workers are paid less than $15 per hour, including nearly 20 million who are paid less than $12 per hour," NELP said.
Business groups generally oppose government-ordered raises. For example, the National Restaurant Association has long argued that mandatory wage increases lead to job losses. Such groups point to studies that forecast large numbers of job losses if minimum wage requirements rise significantly.
The Republican Party's platform says only that the minimum wage is "an issue that should be handled on the state and local level."
However, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has said he supports raising the federal wage level to $10 an hour.
The Democratic Party platform calls for a $15 minimum wage, raised "over time." Clinton has said she supports a $12 federal minimum wage and $15 "where economically feasible."
This past week, the National Association for Business Economics released a survey of economists who work for corporations. It found that nearly three-fourths of respondents said a higher minimum wage would have "little or no impact" on their companies' prospects. Twenty-two percent said it would hurt, either by cutting profits or forcing them to hire fewer workers. The rest said a higher wage could be positive because it would help them attract and retain better employees.
Colorado Public Radio reporter Meredith Turk contributed to this story. Hear Turk's related story on All Things Considered.