Record number of U.S. states set to raise minimum wage in 2022

Some 81 different states, cities, and counties will hike their minimum wage in 2022—a single-year record if we’re counting just government-mandated pay increases, the National Employment Law Project says in a new report. Yet by the end of the year, only two of these states and 47 cities and counties will have hit the $15-per-hour threshold that labor activists have been pushing for since 2012. It’s a reminder that even where workers are seeing wages climb, the pace is often very, very slow. (One anti-poverty activist in California, Joe Sanberg, just filed an $18-per-hour minimum wage ballot initiative, arguing, “now we have to move the ball forward and farther.”) The federal minimum wage, $7.25, hasn’t changed since 2009.

Still, this wave of wage increases is significant:

  • On January 1, the minimum wage will increase in 21 states plus 35 cities and counties. In two states (California and New York) and 31 local jurisdictions, the wage floor will be $15 per hour for some or all employers, according to the NELP.
  • This year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay $15 per hour, and all federal agencies will have to pay a $15 minimum wage starting January 30.
  • Even Puerto Rico’s minimum wage will increase, to $8.50, the first increase since 2009, when the U.S. government set the rate at $7.25.

California is the state to move to if you’re after America’s highest starting wage. The hourly rate is increasing from $14 to $15 statewide at companies that employ more than 25 workers. Select parts of New York will also see minimums set at $15—New York City itself, along with Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties. Meanwhile, if you want more than $15, your relocation will need to be more targeted:

  • On January 1, the highest minimum wage in America will be available in West Hollywood, where hotel workers in the tourist-heavy enclave of Los Angeles will see their hourly pay jump to $17.64. Depending on their employer’s size, non-hotel workers will earn either $15.50 or $15 (increasing by midyear to $16.50 or $16).
  • The minimum wage will hit $16 to $17 per hour in a number of other California municipalities, including Cupertino, Belmont, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Jose, and Sunnyvale. The wage floors in Denver and Seattle will also be north of $15.
  • The District of Columbia is raising its wage floor to $15.20 per hour.

Ten more states are raising their minimum wages to something short of $15, though they’ve passed legislation to eventually reach that threshold:

  • By 2023: Connecticut and Massachusetts
  • By 2024: New Jersey
  • By 2025: Delaware, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Maryland (although just for employers with 15 or more workers)
  • By 2026: Florida and Maryland (all remaining smaller employers)

This leaves nearly 20 states where the federal $7.25 minimum wage will still apply for all of 2022, according to the Economic Policy Institute. The Department of Labor says that five states don’t have their own minimum wage at all—South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Two others, Georgia and Wyoming, have a $5.15-per-hour wage floor for workers exempt from the federal minimum wage (seasonal workers, farm workers, and home health aides), and their wages will definitely not increase in 2022. That’s to say nothing of the federal tipped wage, which has been stuck at $2.13 since 1991.

The state-by-state wage disparity puts the onus on private employers to set their own minimums, in many cases to appeal to workers in an increasingly competitive job market. Walmart, Chipotle, Costco, Wells Fargo, and Starbucks all announced corporate wage hikes this year to at least $15 per hour. A couple have even leapfrogged over the highest rates by law: In October, Costco increased its starting wage to $17 per hour for its 180,000 U.S. workers.