The Top 5 U.S. Cities With the Highest Minimum Wage

Awareness campaigns have led to wage hikes

Currently, the federal minimum wage stands at just $7.25 per hour, despite recent calls for a $15 minimum wage. According to our research, the top five cities in the United States with the highest minimum wage as of 2022 are as follows:

  • Seattle
  • Emeryville, Calif.
  • Mountain View, Calif.
  • Sunnyvale, Calif.
  • Palo Alto, Calif.

Additionally, several states have passed bills that will eventually put all cities in their jurisdiction at $15 or more per hour. Workers in some of these cities will have to wait a few years to implement the new minimum-wage laws fully. For example, Florida residents voted in November 2020 to increase the state’s minimum wage incrementally (beginning at $10 per hour on Sept. 30, 2021) until it reaches $15 per hour in September 2026.

Other states have minimum wages above the federal level, with 26 of those states increasing their wages further in 2022.

Key Takeaways

  • The minimum wage is the lowest amount that an employer can pay a worker per hour.
  • The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 for more than a decade, but there have been recent efforts to raise it to $15 per hour.
  • The current federal minimum wage is insufficient to support oneself and, if applicable, a family, particularly in the more expensive cities in the U.S.
  • Several cities have their own minimum wages that exceed the federal level. Those with the highest minimum wages include Seattle, Emeryville, Calif., Mountain View, Calif., Sunnyvale, Calif., and Palo Alto, Calif.

The Push for Higher Minimum Wages

Prior to the early 2010s, few states and municipalities had minimum wages significantly higher than the federal minimum wage. This changed when minimum-wage workers, particularly in these cities, came together to spread awareness about their plight. Since its peak in 1968, the minimum wage relative to inflation and the cost of living has fallen steadily.

These awareness campaigns were highly successful, drawing support from high-profile activists who have since successfully pushed local governments in several cities to mandate higher minimum wages that enable workers to be self-sufficient.

It is mathematically impossible, even working full time, to support oneself, much less a family, on a minimum-wage job—especially in expensive cities. The cities listed below are among the most expensive in the U.S., with residents of the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area having an approximately 11% lower standard of living in 2018 than those living in other American cities (in terms of purchasing power).

SeaTac, Wash., actually has a higher minimum wage than any other city in the U.S, at $17.54 per hour. However, this is only available to employees within the city’s hospitality and transportation industries. Aside from those workers, SeaTac’s general minimum wage is the same as the state minimum wage: $14.49 per hour.

1. Seattle: $17.27 per Hour

In June 2014, Seattle made history when its city council signed into law a mandate to raise the minimum wage for all workers in the city to $15 per hour. The city became the first in the U.S. with a $15 minimum wage. At that point, no other city had a minimum wage that was even close.

The minimum wage has since increased further, beginning its rise in 2018 though not for all workers citywide until 2021. As of 2022, both large and small businesses pay $17.27 per hour. In the case of the latter, this is reduced to $15.75 if the employer pays $1.52 per hour toward medical benefits or the employee earns $1.52 per hour in tips. Additionally, Seattle is the only city on this list that is not located in California.

2. Emeryville: $17.13 per Hour

There were initially two minimum wages in Emeryville, Calif., when the city established its ordinance on July 2, 2015. These were $12.25 per hour and $14.44 per hour for employees up to 55 years old and those no younger than 56 years old, respectively. Since then, these rates have been annually adjusted based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). By 2019, the age categories no longer applied. As of Jan. 21, 2022, Emeryville's minimum wage is $17.13 per hour.

3. Mountain View: $17.10 per Hour

Mountain View, Calif., originally established its own minimum wage on Jan. 1, 2015, at $10.30 per hour. It was set to rise by a specified amount each year until it reached $15 in 2018. From 2019 onward, to combat inflation, the rate will increase based on any rise in the cost of living in the preceding year. As of Jan. 21, 2022, Mountain View’s minimum wage is $17.10 per hour.

4. Sunnyvale: $17.10 per Hour

Like Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Calif., established a local minimum wage of $10.30 per hour on Jan. 1, 2015. When the ordinance was adopted, it included provisions to ensure that the rate would rise annually by a set amount until it reached $15 in 2019. Additionally, Sunnyvale established that each year after 2019, the minimum wage will rise in response to any increase in the cost of living, up to a maximum of 5% annually, in the year prior. This is meant to ensure that inflation can’t reduce the rate’s value. As of Jan. 21, 2022, the city’s minimum wage is $17.10 per hour.

5. Palo Alto: $16.45 per Hour

Palo Alto’s Minimum Wage Ordinance applies to all employees who work a minimum of two hours per week within the city's borders. Starting in 2020, the city began increasing the minimum wage each Jan. 1 based on the Bay Area Consumer Price Index. As of Jan. 21, 2022, Palo Alto's minimum wage is $16.45 per hour.

What States Have a $15 Minimum Wage?

Only California has a minimum wage of $15, and this is only for businesses with 26 or more employees; however, in the next few years, many states will be increasing their minimum wage to $15.

Which State Has the Highest Minimum Wage in 2022? Which City?

In 2022, California has the highest minimum wage at $15; however, in terms of cities, Seattle has the highest minimum wage at $17.27 an hour.

What Is the Minimum Wage in Japan?

The minimum wage in Japan is 930 yen, which is equal to $8.18.

The Bottom Line

The federal minimum wage of $7.25 has not increased since 2009 and is now too low for families to live above the poverty line. Due to demands from workers, many states, cities, and municipalities have a minimum wage above the federal minimum wage. There is a continued push to increase the federal minimum wage to $15, but it has met with significant resistance.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Education & Labor Committee. "Top Democrats Introduce Bill Raising Minimum Wage to $15 by 2025." Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. “Minimum Wage.” Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  3. National Employment Law Project. "Raises From Coast to Coast in 2022," Pages 5–8, 10. Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  4. U.S. Department of State. "Notice: Increase to State of Florida's Minimum Wage." Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  5. Wolters Kluwer. "More Than Half of U.S. States to Institute a Minimum Wage Increase in 2022." Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  6. Economic Policy Institute. “Congress Has Never Let the Federal Minimum Wage Erode for This Long.” Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  7. Move.org. “The Least Livable US Cities for Minimum Wage Earners.” Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  8. Tax Foundation. "What Is the Real Value of $100 in Metropolitan Areas?" Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  9. City of SeaTac. “City of SeaTac Announces 2022 Minimum Wage Adjustments.” Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  10. Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. “Minimum Wage.” Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  11. The National Law Review. “Minimum Wage Groundswell? Seattle, Others Raise Their Statutory Minimum Wage Rates.” Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  12. University of Washington. “Early Analysis of Seattle’s $15 Wage Law: Effect on Prices Minimal One Year After Implementation.” Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  13. City of Seattle. “Minimum Wage.” Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  14. City of Emeryville, CA. "Minimum Wage Ordinance." Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  15. City of Mountain View. “An Ordinance Amending Section 42.14 of the Mountain View City Code Related to the Citywide Minimum Wage,” Page 1. Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  16. City of Mountain View. “Mountain View Minimum Wage Ordinance.” Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  17. Sunnyvale Municipal Code. “3.80.040. Minimum Wage.” Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  18. Sunnyvale. “Minimum Wage.” Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  19. City of Palo Alto. "Minimum Wage Rate," Page 1. Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  20. GovDocs. "How Many States Have a $15 Minimum Wage?" Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  21. Trading Economics. "Japan Minimum Hourly Wages." Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

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