The Top 5 US Cities With the Highest Minimum Wage

Awareness campaigns have led to wage hikes

As of 2022, 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:

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

As a result of the 2022 midterm elections, a ballot measure was passed in Nebraska that will increase its minimum wage from $9 an hour to $10.50 in 2023, with gradual annual increases to $15 an hour by 2026 and annual inflationary adjustments in future years. A similar ballot measure was passed in Nevada, which will increase its minimum wage to $12 per hour by July 1, 2024, in addition to removing the existing annual inflation adjustments to its minimum wage and allowing the state legislature to pass a minimum wage law setting the rate higher than the constitutionally mandated minimum.

The Push for Higher Minimum Wages

Since its peak in 1968, the minimum wage relative to inflation and the cost of living has fallen steadily. 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 came together to spread awareness about their plight.

These awareness campaigns were highly successful, drawing support from high-profile activists. These activists 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).

West Hollywood, Calif., actually has a higher minimum wage than any other city in the U.S, at $17.64 per hour. However, this is only available to employees within the city's hotel industry, but it will become citywide minimum wage for all businesses on July 1, 2023.

SeaTac, Wash., has a minimum wage of $17.54 per hour that 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. Emeryville: $17.68 per Hour

The minimum wage has since increased further, beginning its rise in 2018, though it didn't roll out for all workers citywide until 2021. As of 2022, both large and small businesses must pay a minimum of $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. Seattle: $17.27 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 July 19, 2022, Emeryville's minimum wage is $17.68 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.

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., also 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 January 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 US States Have the Lowest Minimum Wages?

Five states have not adopted a state minimum wage: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. Two states, Georgia and Wyoming, have a minimum wage below $7.25 per hour. In all seven of these states, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour applies.

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 been met with significant resistance.

Article Sources
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