Florida is voting on whether to raise the minimum wage to $15. It could help bring more than a million people out of poverty.
- This year, a
Floridaballot initiative proposes increasing the hourly minimum wagefrom $8.56 to $15 by 2026.
- "Gradually raising the minimum wage would help bring over a million households out of poverty, and bring two and a half million Floridians closer to a living wage by 2026," says Alexis Davis, of the Florida Policy Institute, a nonprofit focused on public policy research.
- Opponents of the proposition say that increasing the minimum wage will hurt small businesses, particularly those in the tourism industry, many of which are already struggling from the impacts of COVID-19.
At 7 a.m., Alex Harris finishes up the overnight shift at a Waffle House in Tampa, Florida, where he makes $5.54 per hour. Instead of going to sleep, he drives to his second job at his dad's landscaping business where he works until 5 p.m. Then, he has about four hours to sleep before he's back at Waffle House for the overnight shift. In an average month, he'll make about $1,300 — barely enough to cover his rent and utilities. "If I'm hungry, I just wait until I get to work," he says.
Florida is home to some of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the US. But as cities like Tampa, Orlando, and Miami continue to expand, the cost of living has skyrocketed. Between 2015 and 2020, the average monthly rent in Tampa grew by 25%. In that same period, the minimum wage rose just 6% or $0.51 per hour.
Minimum wage workers like Harris, most of whom work in the service industry, have reached a breaking point. They've taken on second, even third jobs, but still struggle to make ends meet. On top of that, there's the psychological toll.
"I struggle with sleeping because I'm up so much," says Harris. "A lot of my extra time is spent figuring out how I'm gonna pay the bills or how many times I can eat that day."
This year, a ballot initiative is looking to change that by increasing the hourly minimum wage from $8.56 to $15 by 2026. For tipped employees like Harris, their wages would rise to $11.98. Then, the minimum wage would continue to grow annually with inflation.
"Gradually raising the minimum wage would help bring over a million households out of poverty, and bring two and a half million Floridians closer to a living wage by 2026," says Alexis Davis, of the Florida Policy Institute, a nonprofit focused on public policy research. Davis says that groups who have been historically overrepresented in low-wage work, including women, people of color, and immigrants, will benefit the most from the increase.
Opponents of the proposition say that increasing the minimum wage will hurt small businesses, particularly those in the tourism industry, many of which are already struggling from the impacts of COVID-19.
"That's simply not true," says Davis. "It might require some short term changes of businesses, but in the long run, the return on investment is undeniable." In fact, data released by the FPI today shows that raising the minimum wage would also raise sales tax revenue by $577 million.
John Morgan, the Orlando lawyer backing the amendment, adds that the first wage increase won't go into effect until November 2021. "And it's only $10 an hour the first year—it doesn't get to $15 an hour till 2026," he says. "If we are still having problems from the fallout from COVID in 2026, God help us all."
While polls have shown that the vast majority of Americans support increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour, the measure faces several challenges in Florida. First, like all citizen-led ballot measures, the amendment requires 60% of the vote to pass. On top of that, there's the all-caps, bolded statement that appears underneath the amendment on the ballot, warning voters of its potential financial impact.
The financial impact statement, which only applies to citizen-led measures, is the result of several laws passed by the Florida legislature over the past two years. Proponents of the statement say it offers information that allows voters to make an informed decision. But critics claim it's a double standard that is meant to intimidate voters.
"It looks like a raging Twitter account on your ballot," says Anna Eskamani, a member of the Florida House of Representatives who supports the amendment. "Not only is the language intended to be alarming and hypocritical, but it also makes the ballot longer, which hurts the chances of people actually finishing it."
However, if the measure does pass, Florida will join the seven other states and the District of Columbia that have agreed to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. It would also be the first state in the South to do so. "Florida is a huge state," says Morgan. " I think [raising the minimum wage] could be an example to the rest of the country."
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