The top five U.S. cities with the highest minimum wage, as of 2015, are San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Oakland and Washington, D.C. Workers in some of these cities have to wait a few years for the new minimum wage laws to be implemented fully. Additionally, cities such as New York and Los Angeles have bills working their way through state legislature that, if passed, would put them among the top five.
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, coalesced to spread awareness about their plight. Since its peak in 1968, the minimum wage relative to inflation and cost of living has fallen steadily. Especially in expensive cities, such as Los Angeles, New York and Seattle, it is mathematically impossible, even working full-time, to support oneself, much less a family, on a minimum wage job.
These awareness campaigns were highly successful, drawing a groundswell of support from high-profile activists who have since successfully pushed local governments in several large cities to mandate higher minimum wages that enable workers to be self-sufficient.
San Francisco: $15 Per Hour, Implemented Fully by 2018
While Seattle was technically the first U.S. city to pass a $15 per hour minimum wage into law, San Francisco's similar law, approved by voters in 2014, goes into effect sooner. The city's higher minimum wage is set to be implemented fully by 2018. This will give an immediate wage increase to 142,000 workers, or 23% of the city's workforce.
Because the provision has not actually been signed into law as of July 2015, a few minor roadblocks to its implementation still exist. However, the city government in San Francisco has a long history of not going against the will of the people, and the $15 minimum wage law was voted in by a large margin. Therefore, the bill's approval process looks to be a mere formality.
Seattle: $15 Per Hour, Implemented Fully by 2021
In June 2014, Seattle made history when its city council signed into a 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 United States with a $15 minimum wage and, at that point, no other city had a minimum wage that was even close.
Though Seattle passed the law, affecting 21% of the city's workers, in 2014, most of these workers were not able to upgrade their lifestyles immediately. The higher minimum wage phases in beginning in 2018 and does not reach the full $15 per hour for all workers citywide until 2021.
Chicago: $13 Per Hour, Implemented Fully by 2019
Following the lead of Seattle and San Francisco, Chicago's city government passed a substantial minimum wage hike to $13 per hour in December 2014. While this hourly rate does not match that of its West Coast peers, it is worth noting that Chicago is a less expensive place to live than Seattle or San Francisco.
Though Chicago's new minimum wage does not take full effect until 2019, the city moved quickly to begin phasing it in. Chicago minimum wage workers got their first raise, to $10 per hour, in July 2015.
Oakland: $12.25 Per Hour, Effective in 2015
In February 2015, Oakland voters approved a law, effective immediately, that all workers within the city be paid a minimum of $12.25 per hour. This gave a raise to nearly 30% of all workers in Oakland, a city known for high poverty rates.
As of July 2015, however, many online job postings in Oakland still advertise wages of $10 per hour or lower, which has prompted workers to complain that the city is not doing enough to enforce the new minimum wage law.
Washington, D.C.: $11.50 Per Hour, Implemented Fully by 2016
The nation's capital passed a law in 2013 raising the city's minimum wage to $11.50 per hour. The law takes full effect in 2016, giving Washington, D.C. the fifth-highest minimum wage in the U.S.