Florida voters may boost minimum wage to $15 an hour

Voters in Florida, a key electoral prize in Tuesday’s presidential election, are also weighing in on a proposal to raise the state’s hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2026.

If approved, Florida would become the eighth state in the U.S. to set its baseline pay at $15 an hour, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour hasn’t budged since 2009, the longest period of time without an increase since it was passed in 1938 as part of the landmark Fair Labor Standards Act.

Amendment 2 in Florida, as the ballot measure is known, would boost the state’s current minimum of $8.56 an hour to $10 in September of 2021, then increase it by a dollar per year through 2026. Starting in 2027, yearly increases would be based on consumer prices.

One worker, 61-year-old Joseph Gourgue, is among those who would benefit should Florida pass the proposal. Now making $9 an hour as a wheelchair attendant at Orlando International Airport, Gourgue said the pay hike would help his family. 

“I would save up money. I want to be able to help out my grandkids before I go,” Gourgue told the Associated Press. “I can put the money back into the economy.”

The Florida Policy Institute estimates up to 2.5 million workers — or a quarter of the state’s workforce —will see increased pay if the proposal is approved.

Business groups oppose the amendment, arguing it would hurt employers in a state whose economy has been battered by the pandemic. The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association said the measure would lead to an estimated 158,000 job losses across the state, while the Florida Chamber of Commerce estimates job losses as high as 500,000.

However, many economic studies say hiking the minimum wage doesn’t reduce employment. 

The minimum wage increase “would bring individuals and couples without children and smaller families to a living wage, while lifting struggling working families closer to a sustainable income,” the Orlando-based public policy research group wrote in a recent paper.

As with the presidential contest, the outcome of the minimum wage proposal could be close. Sixty-three percent of registered voters said they supported the measure in late October, down from 67% a month earlier, according to a Monmouth University poll.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office last year found that hiking the national minimum to $15 an hour as of 2025 would cost 1.3 million American jobs but also lift the same number of workers out of poverty.

While 29 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages that top the federal minimum, five states have not adopted a state minimum: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. New Hampshire repealed its state minimum wage in 2011 but adopted the federal level.

 The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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