Are NV workers worth as much as AZ workers? Asking for NV Democrats.

December 15, 2020 5:00 am

Democratic Assembly members from Southern Nevada posed for pictures before filing to run for reelection, March 2, 2020. (Photo: Hugh Jackson)

On New Year’s Day, the minimum wage will rise above — in some cases considerably above — $12 an hour in some Western states.

Nevada is not one of them.

Some workers in those states will see wages rise even higher than their state-established rates, because unlike Nevada, city and county governments in those states have the authority to raise the minimum wage on their own. Cities and counties in Nevada can’t do that unless the Legislature says they can. 

Nevada’s Legislature hasn’t said they can.

For all the complaints from Republicans and the Facebook Friends Who Love Them about how Nevada is becoming too much like California, when it comes to the minimum wage, working Nevadans could be excused if they conclude Nevada looks too much like Montana.

How states stack up

Here’s a look at the minimum wage and its scheduled increases in Nevada and surrounding coastal and intermountain states, as compiled by the Economic Policy Institute’s Minimum Wage Tracker. (You might want to just skim this part to get the idea, and move on to the high cheese at the end.)

Nevada. Ever unique — or squirrelly, depending on your point of view — Nevada has two minimum wages. If employers don’t provide health insurance, the minimum wage rose from $8.25 to $9 July 1 of this year, under legislation passed in 2019. If employers provide insurance, the minimum wage in the Great State of Nevada is currently … eight (8) dollars.

Blue wave!

Both wages will rise 75 cents every July 1 until 2024, when the higher of the two wages reaches the $12 that was already being paid in some neighboring states a year or more ago. If lawmakers follow through on their stated intent, the two-tiered wage will be eliminated by 2024 and the higher rate will apply to all minimum wage workers.

California. The state the right loves to hate has been raising its wage for years under legislation enacted in 2016. The state wage rose from $12 to $13 at the start of 2020. It will rise another dollar to $14 Jan. 1, 2021, yet another to hit $15 in 2022, and then be indexed for inflation annually. 

More than 30 local governments in California, including Los Angeles (city and county), San Diego and San Francisco have adopted ordinances raising the wage higher and/or more quickly than the state rate.

Arizona Thanks to a schedule established via ballot initiative in 2016, voters raised the minimum from $11 to $12 at the start of 2020. The wage will now rise with inflation, rounded to the nearest five cents. 

Except in Flagstaff. Voters in the city approved a minimum wage increase of their own by ballot measure in 2016. Starting New Year’s Day, the minimum wage in Flagstaff will be $15. On Jan 1, 2022, it will rise to $15.50, and then index for inflation starting in 2023.

Colorado. The wage rose from $11.10 to $12 at the start of this year, as part of a wage increase schedule adopted by state constitutional amendment in 2016. Indexed increases will start Jan. 1, 2021.

The exception: Under an ordinance passed by the Denver City Council in 2019, Denver’s wage will rise from its current $12.85 to $14.77 at the start of the year. On Jan. 1, 2022 it increases to $15.87, and annual indexing begins in 2023.

Oregon. Another state that passed legislation to begin raising the wage in 2016, Oregon’s reached $12 this year. It will rise to $12.75 July 1, 2021, and then $13.50 July 1, 2022, with annual indexing thereafter.

Portland was carved out of the  2016 Legislation and the wage is higher there. It rose from $12.50 to $13.25 in July this year. It will increase to $14.50 in July of 2021, and $14.75 the following year, with indexing beginning in 2023. The indexed increase in Portland must be at least $1.25 more than the state rate. The wage is lower than the state rate in non-urban Oregon counties. Currently at $11.50, it rises to $12 in July 2021, $12.50 in July 2022, and indexing starts in 2023.

Washington. Under another of the minimum wage ballot measures approved nationwide in 2016, Washington’s state minimum wage rate rose from $12 to $13.50 at the start of 2020. Annual indexing starts Jan. 1, 2021.

Seattle, the birthplace of the Fight for 15, passed an ordinance of its own in 2014, and the current wage is $16.39 for employers with more than 500 employees, and $15.75 for employers with less. Indexing has already begun for the latter group, and begins for the former Jan. 1, 2022. Hospitality and transportation workers in the Seattle-Tacoma region were recognized by ordinance in 2013(!), and their wage is $16.34, with indexing to start New Year’s Day.

New Mexico. Like Nevada, lawmakers in New Mexico enacted a minimum wage bill in 2019. But it’s a little better. They raised it from $7.50 to $9 at the start of this year and it increases to $10.50 on Jan. 1. It goes up to $11.50 in 2022, and $12 in 2023.

Albuquerque’s minimum wage is currently at $9.35, so higher than the state’s. However, Albuquerque, Bernalillo County (that’s Albuquerque), as well as Las Cruces aren’t included in the future state rate increases, but rather begin indexing Jan 1. Both the city and county of Santa Fe also set their own their own wage by ordinance, which is already indexing, and currently at $12.10

Montana. Big Sky, smallish minimum wage. Voters passed a ballot measure in 2006 to raise the wage above the federal minimum, which was $5.15 at the time. Montana’s wage has been indexing ever since, and is now $8.65. Careful readers will note that the minimum wage in Montana – Montana! – is higher than that currently paid to many Nevadans.

Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. They are among the states that don’t have a state minimum wage, so the measly federal rate of $7.25 applies. That is sad. True, in many ways, these states are beginning to change. Well, maybe not Wyoming.

Meanwhile, back in Nevada…

There are multiple other caveats in individual states. For instance, some states have a “tipped wage” which is lower than the statewide rate. This is something some business folks were clamoring for when Nevada passed its minimum wage bill in 2019. So it should probably be noted that even some of those tipped wages in other states are higher than Nevada’s top current minimum wage of $9 bucks.

When asked in 2019 why Nevada’s minimum wage bill was so, well, lame, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson answered by describing it as “palatable.”

Every Democrat in Nevada’s congressional delegation — in other words, five-sixths of the delegation — has called for federal legislation to eventually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. In May of 2019, as Nevada lawmakers were ironing out that “palatable” legislation, Joe Biden made one of his first campaign stops in Nevada, acknowledged the Legislature was working on a minimum wage bill, and saidI think it’s long past time it should be $15 an hour across the United States of America.”

However much they’d like to, Biden and congressional Democrats may have a hard time getting a minimum wage bill past Republicans in the Senate, even if both Democrats win those races in Georgia in January.

Or as Gov. Steve Sisolak said in prepared remarks Sunday, while noting both the unique hardships facing Nevadans and the federal failure to provide additional relief legislation, “if we’ve learned anything over the last nine months, it’s that we have to figure out how to get through this on our own.”

Nevada’s recovery is expected to be nasty, brutish, and slow. Nevada workers were struggling with low wages and erratic work schedules even in the Before Times. As they try to claw back, working Nevadans are going to need all the help they can get.

Fortunately for Sisolak and Nevada Democratic lawmakers, when the Legislature meets in February, there won’t be enough Republicans to stop them from fixing the 2019 mistake. Sisolak and the Democrats can raise the wage to $12 immediately (and step it up to $15 from there, preferably sooner than 2024). The only people who can stop Democrats from doing that are themselves.

Sure, they’d have to stand up their campaign contributors in the business sector.

But maybe they can do that?

Or maybe Nevada’s Democratic governor and Democratic legislators just don’t believe working Nevadans are worth as much as working people in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and Arizona.

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.