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Each year, hundreds of thousands of hourly paid workers earn the minimum wage in the U.S. Originally meant to provide an income sufficient to support an individual and, in some cases, a family, the standard rate has failed to keep pace with the cost of living.
Currently, the federal minimum wage rate is $7.25 per hour, but workers who fall under both state and federal laws must be paid the higher of the two wage rates.
Some workers receive a rate mandated by the city where they live that is higher than the state or federal rate. Minimum wage rates clearly vary widely across the United States.
Types of Minimum Wage
In most jurisdictions, employees who get tips, including restaurant servers, have a lower rate. This is called the “tipped wage.”
In Washington, D.C., the tipped wage is $3.89, while the standard rate is $13.25. In Washington State, the minimum wage and the tipped wage are both $11.50.
Some researchers also like to discuss the “effective” minimum rate. This is a wage rate high enough to keep people out of poverty, but still affordable for employers so there is no widespread job loss.
The Washington Post reported in November that Arkansas was on track to have the highest effective minimum wage in the country, resulting in workers earning almost 70 percent as much as the state’s median worker.
In addition to state rates, some cities and counties have created a higher minimum wage to apply within their jurisdictions. Workers in these areas are entitled to the bigger hourly wage, even if it is higher than the state minimum. For instance, some workers in New York City will be earning $15 per hour in 2019.
Top Minimum Wage Rates in the U.S.
Leaving aside the local rates for the moment, here are the highest rates by state for 2019.
- Washington, D.C.: $13.25
- California $12.00
- Massachusetts: $12.00
- Washington: $12.00
- Oregon $11.25 – 7/1/2019
- New York: $11.10
- California: $11.00
- Arizona: $11.00
- Maine $11.00
- Vermont $10.78
- Rhode Island $10.50
- Connecticut: $10.10
- Hawaii: $10.10
These are the standard rates for non-tipped workers in 2019. Eight states mandate that employers pay tipped workers the same rate as everyone else: Washington, Montana, Minnesota, Oregon, Nevada, California, Alaska and Hawaii.
In all other states, tipped workers receive a “sub-minimum” wage.
Lowest Minimum Wage Rates in the U.S.
In 2019, these states had no standard rate at all:
- South Carolina
Workers in these states nonetheless receive some protection. They are entitled to the federal rate of $7.25 or $2.13 for tipped workers. Some states, like Virginia, tie their rate to the federal rate as a matter of course.
In some states, however, the rate is lower than the federal rate. Workers who are not subject to the federal rate may be paid this lower minimum. In Georgia, for example, the state rate is $5.15.
Twenty states raised their rates for 2019, partly in response to the $15 movement that is gaining strength across the nation. Some policy experts feel that $15 rate is necessary to provide a living wage, the original purpose of creating a minimum wage.