The New Year brought good news for an estimated 3.1 million workers as minimum wage hikes went into effect in 21 states, Fox News reported
The increases embraced around the country may also spur the federal government to move on its own minimum wage rate, which now stands at $7.25 - far below new hourly rates paid in states like Connecticut where workers there now earn $9.15, and where the state plans to raise its hourly age to $10.10 by 2017, Fox News said.
President Barack Obama has proposed a national increase to $10.10 as the debate continues over an increasing wealth gap between wealthy and poor.
The new increases in effect Thursday bring a total of 29 states and the District of Columbia where law allows them to be paid more than the federal wage rate.
"We've seen a historic number of states increasing their minimum wages," Economic Policy Institute economist David Cooper told CNN
. "People's understanding of where the wage floor should be has changed a lot, and in part caused by strikes and protests."
While critics have argued that the pay hikes impact small business and ultimately serve to kill jobs, others say such increases are needed as more workers fight for a living wage. Economists say the increases mark an experiment to see how the job market reacts, the Christian Science Monitor reported,
calling 2015 a likely "tipping point" for labor.
Congress has not been able to move the needle on a federal increase and experts suggest any future action is unlikely to occur under a Republican Congress, Fox News noted. Some cities like Chicago have taken the up their issue on their own, passing ordinances and setting rates that extend to $13 hourly by 2019, Crain's reported,
as the issue takes on considerable political fallout.
"People are concerned about inequality. This is a reform that targets inequality," Chris Tilly, a UCLA professor, told CNN.
About 76 million U.S. workers are paid by hourly wage, and about 4.6 percent of those earn at or below current minimum-wage standards, Fox said.
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