The workers with the lowest pay in many of these states have gotten a pay raise in 2021!
Many of the retail employees breaking up fights over masks and the delivery people who have helped keep restaurants in business during the coronavirus pandemic are some of the lowest-paid workers around. Unfortunately, essential apparently doesn't mean respectable pay.
These are often minimum-wage jobs, which pay just $7.25 an hour in states that follow the federal minimum wage. It has been stuck at $7.25 since the summer of 2009 — the longest stretch without an increase since the federal minimum wage was introduced in the 1930s.
It's impossible to get by on so little income.
But many states and cities have taken it upon themselves to give low-paid workers their raises. For example, Washington, D.C., raised its minimum wage from $14 to $15 an hour on July 1.
In 29 states, workers are paid minimums higher than what federal law requires. These are the 15 states that are on top after midyear increases, including one that took effect on Sept 1.
Minimum wage: $10.10 per hour
Surprisingly, Hawaii makes this list even though the state hasn't said "Aloha" to a minimum wage increase in a couple of years. The rate has stood at $10.10 an hour since Jan. 2018.
While that's higher than in most states, it doesn't go far on an island where prices are steeper than anywhere else in the U.S., according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Hawaii legislators in 2020 are expected to take a fresh look at a plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024.
The proposal stalled in 2019 as lawmakers disagreed over whether there should be a lower rate for workers who get health benefits through their jobs.
Minimum wage: $10.19 per hour
The minimum wage in the state nicknamed "the Last Frontier" goes up automatically each New Year's Day to keep pace with inflation, thanks to a ballot measure voters approved in 2014.
Alaskans in the lowest-paying jobs got a raise of 30 cents for 2020. The previous minimum was $9.89 an hour.
Like everyone else in Alaska, minimum-wage workers also receive annual payouts from the state's oil wealth fund. In 2019, every adult and child received a check for $1,606 — $6 more than in 2018 — to spend, save or invest. How cool is that!?
School bus drivers in Alaska have their own pay floor: They're required to receive at least double the usual minimum wage.
Minimum wage: $10.50 per hour
America's smallest state by area has one of the highest minimum pay levels. But some leaders in Rhode Island say the state's $10.50 minimum wage needs to be even higher, to stay competitive with neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts.
An estimated 20,000 workers in the Ocean State make the minimum. The state Senate passed legislation in June 2019 that would have raised their pay to $11.50 an hour at the start of 2020.
But the bill didn't make it to the governor's desk.
Rhode Island employers not only must obey the state's minimum wage law, but they're also required to pay workers time and a half for Sundays and holidays. A similar rule in Massachusetts is being phased out.
Minimum wage: $10.96 per hour
Though next-door New Hampshire has stuck with the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, Vermont has been lifting its rate by up to 5% per year to keep up with the cost of living.
Low-paid workers in the Green Mountain State got an 18-cent increase for 2020, up from the previous minimum wage of $10.78 an hour.
But state lawmakers want to see the rate rise more quickly. In February 2020, they overrode a veto from Republican Gov. Phil Scott to increase the minimum to $11.75 in 2021 and $12.55 in 2022.
A state study found Vermont's minimum wage isn't enough to live on in. For a working couple to get by in the state, each partner needs to earn at least $13.34 per hour, the Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office reported.
Minimum wage: $11 per hour
Minimum wage increases have become part of the fabric of New Jersey — like the state's unique law that doesn't let motorists pump their own gas.
A bill that the governor signed into law in early 2019 calls for annual $1 raises every January until 2024. That's when the Garden State's minimum will hit $15 for most workers.
The latest increase — from $10 to $11 as of Jan. 1, 2020 — put New Jersey among the 21 states raising the minimum wage for 2020.
The route to $15 per hour "will grow our economy, uplift working families, make our state more affordable, and ensure fairness for future generations," Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy wrote last July, on Twitter.
Minimum wage: $11.80 per hour
In New York, where subway fares, State Thruway tolls and upstate snowfall totals seem to go up routinely, the minimum wage is making regular increases, too.
Thanks to a New Year's Eve raise, workers across the Empire State are now earning a minimum of $11.80 an hour in 2020, up from $11.10 in 2019. The state is aiming to get to the $15-an-hour level in mid-2021.
Some areas are arriving there faster. New York City is already at $15, and suburban Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties are scheduled to join the Big Apple at $15 by the end of 2021.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the wage hikes give more New York families "the opportunity to live a decent life."
Minimum wage: $12 per hour
The Centennial State's minimum wage went up to $12 for 2020 on New Year's Day, from $11.10 in 2019.
And, for the first time, you can earn an even higher rate if you live in Denver. Taking advantage of a new law that allows Colorado cities to set their own minimums, the Mile High City in 2020 is requiring employers to pay at least $12.85 an hour.
Local officials said they needed the power to set their own pay floors, because many businesses in Colorado's urban areas have discovered it's tough to find employees willing to work for low wages.
Denver's minimum wage is set to hit $15.87 in two years.
Minimum wage: $13 per hour
In the heavily populated and pricey Golden State, the minimum wage has been going up by $1 a year, so that by 2022 California workers will be required to earn at least — you guessed it — $15 an hour.
The latest increase took the state's minimum from $12 to $13 for 2020.
But a number of California communities aren't waiting and are already at or above the $15 mark, especially in Silicon Valley. In 2020, San Jose is at $15.25, Apple's hometown of Cupertino is paying $15.35, and Palo Alto has a minimum of $15.40.
The state's leader is Emeryville, the San Francisco suburb that's home to the Toy Story animation studio Pixar. The minimum wage there jumped on July 1 from $16.30 to $16.84 an hour.
Minimum wage: $13.50 per hour
In Washington, a state known for soaring mountain peaks and skyscraping man-made wonders like the Seattle Space Needle, the minimum wage has gone to heights no other state has seen before.
A New Year's increase raised the Evergreen State's minimum by $1.50 an hour for 2020, from the old rate of $12. Future statewide increases will be tied to inflation.
Meanwhile, two Washington cities have already reached the popular $15-an-hour level — and then some.
Since the start of this year, large employers in Seattle have been required pay at least $16.39 an hour. And in SeaTac, which is home to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, hospitality and transportation workers now have a minimum wage of $16.34.