President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address Tuesday that he will sign an executive order setting the minimum wage for workers covered by new federal contracts at $10.10 an hour, a big jump from the current federal minimum of $7.25. Obama hopes his order will spur Congress to increase the minimum wage for all employees.
In similar efforts, Democrats in more than half of U.S. states are sponsoring or are expected to introduce state-level wage hike measures, according to a national review by The Associated Press. Even in Republican-dominated capitals where the bills are longshots, the proposals still give Democrats a chance to hammer home the popular theme of fair wages in what is an election year in most places.
Highlights from around the nation:
—In Washington state, a bill would increase what is already the highest state minimum wage in the nation to $12 an hour over the next three years.
—Massachusetts' state Senate has approved an increase in the minimum wage from $8 to $11 over three years. The House hasn't taken up the measure.
—Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn wants to raise the rate from $8.25 to at least $10, and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is backing an increase to $10.10 an hour by 2016.
—Bills in other states would push the minimum wage over the $10 mark, including measures in Florida, Iowa and Kentucky to create a $10.10 hourly minimum. One bill in South Carolina would require employers to pay at least $10 an hour or whatever federal law requires, whichever is greater. In New York, the Democrat-controlled Assembly wants to accelerate the state's scheduled minimum wage increase to $9 by 2015 and tie it to the inflation rate.
—Advocates of a minimum wage hike are trying to line up support from voters in some states. Backers of an effort to raise the minimum wage in Alaska turned in signatures with hopes of getting the issue on the ballot in August. In Idaho, an effort is underway to get a minimum wage hike to $9.80 an hour by 2017 on November's ballot. A South Dakota ballot measure would raise the state minimum wage to $8.50 an hour beginning next year.
—In Alabama, a proposed constitutional amendment would raise the minimum wage by steps to $9.80 on Jan. 1, 2016. A proposed constitutional amendment introduced in the Senate in New Mexico would automatically increase the state's minimum wage each year to adjust it for inflation. The amendments would require approval from both legislators and voters.
—With bills in the Vermont statehouse that would raise the minimum wage as high as $12.50 by 2015, one lawmaker said this week he would like to see the minimum wage to reach $15 an hour. Rep. Chris Pearson, a member of the state's Progressive Party, was part of a group of Vermont lawmakers calling for a new "bill of economic rights."
—Groups backing an increase in Michigan's minimum wage laid the groundwork this week for a statewide ballot drive in November, forming a committee that is likely to commence with collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to qualify.