Florida’s minimum wage is going up, but we’re still below average

Earlier this year, Walt Disney World workers agreed to a plan that would gradually increase their hourly wage to $15 by 2021. Other major corporations, such as Amazon, have followed suit. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)

Well, it’s official. We are a below-average state.

That’s not me being snarky or facetious, by the way. When it comes to paying minimum wage workers, it’s about to become a statistical reality.

Florida will soon slip below the U.S. median in terms of its minimum wage pay scale. Missouri is about to pass us. Delaware already did. Ohio and Montana are staying one coin ahead.

And that’s despite an ultra-generous 21-cent increase that’s due to kick in for Florida workers next week. Again, not being facetious. That 21-cent boost to reach $8.46 an hour is larger than the past three years combined in Florida. It’s our biggest raise in seven years.

So what does it all mean?

Basically, it suggests you don’t want to get caught on the wrong side of our state border without a college degree. Preferably, a master’s.

While states large and small are making progress toward a livable minimum wage, Florida is sticking with its Southern neighbors in the dodgy section of the United States.

Now you might argue that, geographically, it’s a sound strategy. If the Southern United States has a lower cost of living than the Northeast or the far West, then Florida is wisely keeping pace.

Except while Florida’s wages are below average, our housing costs have leapfrogged neighboring states. And that suggests your $8.46 does not go as far.

Or here’s another way of looking at it:

From 2000-09, Florida’s minimum wage increased 41 percent. That’s a relatively modest 4.1 percent increase annually. But from 2010-19, the increase will only be 17 percent. And that means a low-wage earner in Florida is half as likely to be keeping up with the rising cost of daily life as a decade ago.

Naturally, Tallahassee’s response has been less than inspiring. Democrats make a grand show every year of proposing legislation to increase the minimum wage to $15, even though it has no prayer of happening. This allows Republicans to ignore the issue completely.

And so the responsibility has fallen to the private sector and local governments. St. Petersburg, for instance, raised its minimum wage for city workers to $12.50 several years ago. Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano recently announced his office would go to $15 on Jan. 10.

Facing pressure in the face of enormous profits, Amazon agreed to raise its minimum wage to $15 this year. Target and Disney World also plan to be at $15 by 2021.

Just to clarify, I have not been an advocate for a $15 minimum wage mandate in Florida. At least not too soon. Raising the minimum wage too quickly could end up having an adverse effect on the people it’s supposed to be helping by causing rising prices and unemployment.

But the point legislators in Tallahassee seem to be missing is there is a lot of distance between $8.46 and $15, and the state’s current cost-of-living accelerator is sadly inadequate.

In recent years, lawmakers have dawdled on issues such as medical marijuana and voting rights and have seen voters going over their heads by passing constitutional amendments.

A constitutional amendment on a $15 minimum wage is in the works for 2020.

Tallahassee, consider yourself warned.

Contact John Romano at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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Lee Fry