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By Jeanne Mejeur

When it comes to the minimum wage, the feds get the attention but the action is in the states.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama promised that federal contractors will pay their employees a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour. He plans to do that by executive order, since efforts to raise the federal minimum wage have stalled in Congress and it’s unlikely an increase will be approved in the current political environment, despite widespread public support for a higher minimum wage.

The real debate is taking place in state legislatures. Last year 34 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico considered minimum wage bills, and California, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island enacted minimum wage increases. Hikes were also enacted in Maine, New Mexico and New Jersey, but vetoed by their governors.

Voters in New Jersey effectively overrode Governor Chris Christie’s veto of the minimum wage bill the legislature had passed, approving an increase through a ballot measure in the November 2013 election. Not only did they increase the minimum wage, they also approved automatic annual increases, becoming the 11th state to tie future increases to the cost of living.

It’s going to be a big issue again in the 2014 session. Already 22 bills have been introduced in 14 states and D.C. on minimum wage increases and related issues.

Bills increasing the state minimum wage have been introduced in Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.

D.C. has already passed a bill to increase the District’s minimum wage and the bill is under review in Congress. Bills in California, New York and Washington relate to minimum wage issues but don’t provide for increases.

NCSL’s Minimum Wage Resources

Jeanne Mejeur,  a program principal in NCSL’s Legislative Management Program, covers employment issues for NCSL.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.

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