WASHINGTON — In recognition of Black History Month, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is highlighting the continued work of Democratic state legislatures to close the racial wealth gap by passing pro-worker laws, including raising the minimum wage, expanding worker protections, and codifying the right to organize. These economic tools are critical to helping Black workers build and pass on wealth.
“Building and maintaining Democratic power in the states is key to addressing racial equity and justice,” said DLCC executive director Heather Williams. “We’ve consistently seen Democratic state legislatures wield their power for tremendous good, helping to raise the minimum wage, strengthen unions, and expand worker rights and protections — all of which are critical factors in lifting up Black workers and closing the racial wealth gap. As we recognize Black History Month, we must build upon our progress to address racial justice and recommit to our work in the states, where the policies that can close or widen racial disparities are written and passed.”
Raising the minimum wage:
- Minimum wage earners in 10 states including New Mexico, Virginia, California, and New Jersey received a raise on January 1, 2022 because of legislation passed by Democratic state legislatures.
- In 2021, Delaware and Rhode Island passed legislation to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
- In Pennsylvania, Democrats have once again introduced bills in both chambers to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 from $7.25 an hour, but Republicans won’t support the measures.
- Republicans in the Virginia House passed a bill to freeze the scheduled minimum wage increase; Democrats in the Senate already killed a similar proposal and are expected to kill this bill too.
- Black workers earn on average 30% or $10,000 less than white workers. The median Black household also has a net worth of about ⅛ of the $188,000 net worth of white households.
- Raising the minimum wage reduces these racial wealth gaps and poverty rates for Black families.
Expanding worker rights and protections:
- Paid leave: Paid leave provides essential stability and financial support for Black families, especially given the persistent racial wealth gap and other health-related disparities.
- In 2021, Democratic states, including Massachusetts, Nevada and Washington, expanded paid leave programs to address a variety of COVID-related issues.
- Because of legislation from previous years, paid leave went into effect in Maine, Colorado, and Connecticut in 2021 and paid leave will go into effect in New Mexico this summer.
- In Arizona, Democrats from both chambers introduced a proposal this year to give every Arizonan 24 weeks of paid family leave.
- Wage theft: Black workers are more likely than white workers to experience wage theft so states like California passed legislation making intentional wage theft – including employers paying less than the minimum wage, failing to pay overtime, or taking workers’ tips – punishable as grand theft.
- Banning discrimination: Last year, Connecticut, Delaware, New Mexico, and Oregon banned hair discrimination by employers, which primarily affects Black and indigenous people.
Protecting the right to organize:
- In 2021, the Illinois legislature approved sending the “fundamental right” to unionize constitutional amendment to voters.
- Virginia Democrats repealed the state’s outright ban on public sector collective bargaining.
- Black union members earn 16% higher wages and are more likely than any other race to be union members, helping to narrow the racial wealth gap.