Congress has not moved on a new federal minimum wage, but nationwide more than 70 units of government, including 25 states, will act on their own this year and raise their minimums above the federal floor of $7.25 an hour.
The federal minimum wage hasn't changed since 2009, more than a decade ago.
The U.S. House passed the Raise the Wage Act of 2019, which would raise the federal minimum wage in steps to $15 per hour by 2024. The U.S., however, has not acted on the plan.
On New Year's Day, 21 states and 26 cities and counties – many of them in California – increased their minimum wage. In 17 of them, new rates will reach $15 an hour, or more.
Later this year, another four states, along with 23 cities and counties, will raise their minimum wages.
Texas and East Texas, however, won't join them. Legislation in 2019 to pump up the Texas minimum wage, from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, stalled in the House. Labor unions strongly supported the change but the Texas chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business opposed it.
The next legislative session starts a year from now. In Texas, roughly 200,000 workers earn at or below the minimum wage.
The city of Palestine has not passed a law raising the minimum wage, but the vast majority of city employees earn more than the minimum, unless they work at temporary jobs.
“As a city, we should set the example for other employers,” Mayor Steve Presley said. “We expect people to work hard, but we also believe they should be paid a livable wage.”
Aside from Texas, 20 states have not raised the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The Texas Minimum Wage Act of 2009 requires employers to compensate employees at the federal level, but provides many exceptions.
At the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, the nation’s lowest-paid workers earn roughly $15,000 a year for full-time work. Economists note, however, that today's $7.25-an-hour minimum wage represents the buying power of $6 an hour in 2009, considering that the cost of living has risen 18 percent since then. In 2009, the minimum wage rose to $7.25 an hour from $6.55 an hour.
East Texas has more lower-wage jobs than high-skill jobs, said Stephen Lynch, Area Operations Manager at Texas Workforce Solutions in Tyler. Jobs that pay minimum wage include the service industry: restaurants, cleaning, landscaping, and general labor.
Manufacturers pay the highest entry-level wages.
A few Texas local governments have passed Living Wage laws to retain their own workers. The City of Austin set a minimum wage of $15 per hour in 2018; Dallas County and the City of Houston followed in 2019, at $15 and $12 an hour respectively.
Lynch told the Herald-Press that many full-time, minimum-wage workers also work a part-time job to cover living expenses. “Minimum wage does not cover the cost of living,” he said.
Fewer East Texas jobs pay the $7.25-an-hour minimum, however. A tight labor market, with record unemployment rates of just over 3 percent, has caused wages to rise.
Metropolitan areas have set the highest minimum-wage levels. Seattle has one of the highest rates at $16.39 an hour; two of Texas’ neighboring states, New Mexico and Arkansas, raised their wages to $9 and $10 an hour respectively.
Congress passed the Raise the Wage Act of 2019, which proposes raising the federal minimum wage in six steps to $15 per hour by 2024. The Senate has not acted on the House plan.