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What Does Raising the Minimum Wage Mean for Women?

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70% of tipped wage workers nationwide are women

CREDIT: Flickr/celeste343

When Obama proposed raising the federal minimum to $9 per hour, he was also inadvertently advocating to raise wages for women.

As expressed in this infographic released by the National Women’s Law Center, women only has a 4 percent chance of becoming the CEO of a Fortune 500 company—while she has a far higher chance, about 64 percent, of working for a minimum wage.

That's why watching how minimum wage increases improve the lives of women and the households they head while bolstering the economy in states like Maryland, New Jersey, and New York is so important.

Currently the minimum wage in all three states currently rests at $7.25 per hour, which is the current federal minimum but in Maryland and New York, steps are in place to raise that number—in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) just issued a conditional veto to block a bill that would have done the same in his state.

In Maryland, where more than 60 percent of minimum wage workers are women, legislation was recently introduced to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10 per hour. It would also set the minimum wage for workers who earn tips at 70 percent of that number, and that’s a big step up from where it is now at $3.63 per hour—nearly 50 percent of the general minimum wage. The bill also indexes both the standard minimum wage as well as the minimum wage for tipped workers to ensure both rates keep up with inflation and that the buying power of a minimum wage income doesn’t continue its current backslide.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) recently released his 2013-2014 budget, which would raise the minimum wage to $8.75 per hour and the the rate for tipped workers from $5 per hour to $6.03 per hour. Cuomo’s plans doesn't, however, include indexing either of the wages to keep up with the cost of living. If the national minimum wage were adjusted to keep up with inflation, it should be $10.58 per hour today. In New York, where the cost of living is the fourth highest in the nation, that number should be more around the order of $11.15 per hour.

The New Jersey bill—had Christie not conditionally vetoed it—would’ve raised the minimum wage to $8.50 per hour in 2013 and indexed it for increases in the cost of living (New Jersey has the sixth highest cost of living in the country). Christie offered a counter proposal, which would raise it to $8.25 per hour instead—leaving it to stagnate there for a three year period. It would also get rid of the cost-of-living increase. Had the bill passed, it would have raised wages for more than a half a million workers, 55 percent of whom are women.

Increases to the minimum wages for tipped workers in these states are essential to closing the gender pay gap, given 70 percent of tipped workers nationwide are women. And since most of the states with the narrowest gender wage gaps are also states with minimum wages above $7.25 per hour, these proposals and others like them could be an important part of ending the national wage gap.

The only state with a higher minimum wage today than President Obama's State of the Union proposal is Washington, where it's $9.19 an hour.

Pauline Holdsworth is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter at @holdswo.

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