Though the increases are small - ranging from nine to 12 cents per hour - economists say they should boost sales for local businesses as workers use the money immediately to pay for food, gasoline and other essentials. Still, business advocates argue that with already high unemployment, the increases could dampen job creation.
"These small increases mean that thousands of minimum wage earners like health aides, child care workers, restaurant workers and retail clerks will be better able to put food on the table, provide for their children, and keep a roof over their head," says Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project , which advocates for workers.
Before the federal government raised the minimum wage three years ago - after a 12-year hiatus - a majority of states pushed wages above the federal minimum. On Jan. 1, 17 states and the District of Columbia will have minimum wages above the current federal level, which pays a full-time minimum wage worker $7.25 an hour, or just over $15,000 per year. Washington state's $8.55 per hour is the highest in the nation. For more than 60 percent of minimum wage workers, annual pay is well below the $22,050 federal poverty line for a family of four.