Oregon wins the race to the top of the minimum wage pack.
Photograph by George Rose — Getty Images
By Claire Zillman
March 3, 2016

The state of Oregon made history on two fronts Wednesday night when Governor Kate Brown signed its new minimum wage into law.

The measure makes Oregon the first to implement a tiered minimum wage system that sets different hourly rates in different parts of the state. Plus, it gives Oregon the highest minimum wage of any state in the nation.

Brown didn’t dwell on those superlatives Wednesday night, but instead painted the landmark legislation as “a very smart approach” that “makes sense for workers and for businesses no matter where in Oregon they are.”

The law dictates that by 2022, the minimum wage will be $14.75 per hour in Portland’s urban growth boundary, $13.50 in midsize counties, and $12.50 in rural areas. Even that lowest rate—$12.50 per hour—is higher that any other existing or planned minimum wage for a state or the District of Columbia. D.C.’s minimum wage increase to $11.50 that will occur in July comes the closest.

The first in the series of hikes leading up Oregon’s ground-breaking pay levels will start in July. The state’s current minimum wage is $9.25.

For the last several years, the minimum wage has been a hot button issue as Congress has left the federal rate of $7.25—first set in 2009—untouched despite evidence that it hasn’t kept up with inflation or worker productivity. Strikes by fast food restaurant employees and other low-wage workers have also highlighted what it’s like to live on minimum wage as they’ve rallied against poor pay and demanded $15 an hour.

Those factors have prompted many cities and states to take action on their own—raising their minimum wages through legislative means or by putting it to a vote. Cities like SeaTac in Washington, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have made the biggest splashes by increasing their minimum pay rates to $15 per hour. It was also big news in November 2014 when voters in four Republican-led states passed minimum wage increases through ballot initiatives.

 

But for all the headlines, there are still 21 states that abide by the federal rate of $7.25, which—if it remains stagnant—will be a less than 50% of the highest tier of Oregon’s new wage in eight years. To see where your state lands on the widening spectrum, check out the list below

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