The successes in 2016 are a clear political signal of Americans' priorities.

By Emily Cadei
December 31, 2016

Worker advocates around the country are preparing to celebrate jumps in the minimum wage when the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 1. And they are bullish about building on those gains in 2017 and 2018, despite a hostile federal government under President-Elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans.

While Congress has not raised the $7.25-per-hour federal minimum wage in seven years, 19 states will increase their minimum wage on New Year’s Day, while three more, plus the District of Columbia, have set wage increases for mid-year. The majority of those increases are due to ballot initiatives approved by voters, including votes this November in Arizona, California, Colorado, D.C., Maine, Oregon and Washington. According to the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group that has supported the “Fight for $15” movement to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, 19 cities and states are now on track to have a $15 minimum wage, many through incremental increases over the course of several years.

The string of successful statewide ballot initiatives as well as dozens of other increases at the city and county level made 2016 a very good year for the labor union-led movement. “Just in the last year, we’ve been able to raise the minimum wage for eight million people,” says Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of The Fairness Project, an advocacy group that supports campaigns to increase the minimum wage around the country. “We also learned a lot in the last year. We learned that the way to get these raises … is not going to be through the federal government,” or even state governments, Schleifer says. “It will be done, frankly, through ballot initiatives.”

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