With the fate of federal minimum wage increase in doubt, Nevada Democrats, who control the state Legislature, could act on their own and pass a bill creating a higher minimum wage or accelerating scheduled state increases. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
The Biden administration’s push to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 is supported by Nevada’s three Democratic members of the House of Representatives as well as both of the state’s Democratic U.S. senators.
Passage of the federal wage legislation is uncertain at best. Democrats would need Republican support to overcome a Senate filibuster, and Republicans oppose Democratic wage increase policy. Alternatively, some Democrats have signaled they could raise the wage with a simple majority through the budget reconciliation process, however it’s unclear if that’s possible.
Nevada Democrats, who control the state Legislature, could conceivably act on their own and pass a bill creating a higher minimum wage or accelerating scheduled state increases, following up on 2019 legislation establishing gradual increases that top out at $12 in 2024.
“We haven’t had any discussions about accelerating minimum wage increases in the Senate yet this session,” said Cheryl Bruce, executive director of the Nevada Senate Democratic Caucus. “But we’ll be keeping a close eye on what Congress decides to do with the federal minimum wage over the next few weeks and possibly reevaluate from there,” Bruce said in an email.
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, who originally proposed amending Nevada’s minimum wage legislation to bring the wage to $12 by 2023, a year earlier than what ended up in the law, did not respond for comment.
Nevada’s minimum wage increased to $8 in July of last year — a raise of 75 cents — for workers whose employers offer a health care benefit or $9 for those who don’t. The raise is part of the state’s minimum wage legislation which incrementally increases the lowest paying jobs to $12 per hour by 2024, or $11 if an employer offers health insurance. However, Democratic legislators have signaled their intent to eliminate the two-tier wage by 2024, so that only the $12 wage will apply.
Nevada is one of about half of the states in the nation that have already raised their minimum wage from the federal pay floor.
The minimum wage in several states regionally — California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and Arizona — is already higher than $12.
But elected Democrats may feel little — or no — pressure from organizational allies who were disappointed at what many of them felt was inadequate wage legislation in 2019.
Some progressive groups who would normally be counted on to advocate for such an increase say the pandemic has changed their legislative priorities.
Laura Martin, Executive Director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance, one of the groups pushing to raise the minimum wage in 2019, said while they would have preferred a $15 minimum wage increase, the incremental increase to $12 by 2024 will benefit many Nevada workers.
“Our biggest focus is going to be revenue,” said Martin. “Our families who suffered under the pandemic shouldn’t then have to deal with underfunded schools or healthcare. Our social services and public safety net are underfunded because our legislature does not want to tax corporations or mining.”
PLAN is pushing to tax the mining industry as a revenue source. Lawmakers are set to debate three state constitutional amendments related to mining taxes.
“COVID made it so that a lot of things are pushed to the side to focus on revitalizing the economy,” said Martin. “If there’s an opportunity to raise our wages even more that would be great, but there are other things to do to support working families that are suffering, like paid sick leave, housing justice and affordable childcare.”
Annette Magnus, executive director of Battle Born Progress, said while the group originally advocated for a $15 minimum wage they counted $12 an hour as a victory. Magnus said they hope to focus on criminal justice policies, including the death penalty.
One of the issues Battle Born Progress will focus on during the upcoming legislature related to the minimum wage is a proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate Nevada’s two-tier minimum wage structure, said Magnus.
“A lot of employers have used that as a loophole to get out of paying eight dollars an hour,” Magnus said. “If they offered health insurance — not give but offer — they are able to pay a lower minimum wage.”
The resolution, AJR10, passed in both the Assembly and the Senate in the 2019 session of the Legislature and will likely be reintroduced in the upcoming session, where lawmakers will vote on it again. If the resolution passes for a second time, it will appear on the ballot in the 2022 election.
“We need to get away from that two-tier minimum wage system and make everything a little more fair and equitable,” Magnus said.
By the numbers
Research by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that if the minimum wage was raised to $15 by 2025 wages would increase for 21 percent of the U.S. workforce — that’s nearly 32 million workers across the country.
The impact of raising the minimum wage also varies greatly by congressional district, according to a report released by EPI last week.
In Nevada’s first congressional district — home to much of the Las Vegas Metropolitan area — 46 percent of workers would be affected by the minimum wage increase, or about 161,000 workers.
On average, year-round workers would receive an extra $2,000 a year, amounting to an additional $326 million in wages for the lowest-paid workers. More than half of working women in the district, or 83,000 workers, would be affected by raising the minimum wage to $15, according to the EPI analysis. A little more than 40 percent of men, or 71,000 workers, would be affected.
More than half — 55 percent — of Hispanic workers would benefit from the minimum wage increase. The share of Black workers affected would be 49 percent, while 30 percent of white workers would benefit.
Nevada’s 2nd congressional district, which includes the City of Reno, would see about 30 percent, or 104,000, workers affected by raising the minimum wage to $15. The average affected worker would see an extra $2,000 a year in wages, totaling about $208 million in earned wages for the district’s lowest-paid workers.
About 48 percent of Hispanic workers would be impacted by the minimum wage increase compared to about 22 percent of white workers, the highest and lowest share, respectively.
Nevada’s 3rd congressional district, which includes Henderson and Boulder City, would have the smallest share of workers affected by a rise in the minimum wage at 29 percent. On average the annual wage for workers in the district would increase by $1,700 for an additional $195 million in wages for the lowest-paid workers. Forty-two percent of Hispanic workers be affected, followed by Black workers at 37 percent, and white workers at 22 percent.
In Nevada’s 4th congressional district, a district that is largely rural but includes North Las Vegas as well, 35 percent of workers would be affected by a minimum wage increase, or 115,000 workers. The average affected worker would see an extra $2,000 a year in wages, totaling about $226 million in earned wages for the district’s lowest-paid workers. Hispanic workers would account for 49 percent of the share of workers affected, Black workers 39 percent, and white workers 22 percent.
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