How St. Louis Workers Won and Then Lost a Minimum-Wage Hike

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

After a Missouri law took effect on Monday, the wage floor in the city was reduced to $7.70 per hour after three months at $10 per hour—the latest case of a state cracking down on a city that had enacted a progressive policy...

But minimum-wage laws add another new layer to the debate: race. The people in minimum-wage jobs are disproportionately African American, which means that increases disproportionately help them—and preemption laws disproportionately work to keep them at lower salaries. There are even wage differences within bottom tranches of the ladder. In the lowest wage sector, which is food service and accommodation, black workers in St. Louis make 81 cents for every dollar their white counterparts earn, according to new data from the Partnership for Working Families. The state legislature is 87 percent white. PWF found similar results across several other cities in states with preemption laws, including Atlanta; Cleveland; New Orleans; Durham, North Carolina; Birmingham, Alabama; and Memphis, Tennessee, with black workers averaging 80 cents on a dollar in the sector to white ones.

“Preemption is portrayed as a struggle between political parties, but state interference in city minimum wage laws stems from a larger Jim Crow legacy of blocking economic policies that primarily benefit communities of color,” said Nikki Fortunato Bas, the executive director of PWF. “Both Democratic and Republican governors have approved preemption laws, but in most cases, it’s predominantly white legislatures overturning municipal laws passed by majority black cities. Ending this ugly pattern of white interference is critical to realizing racial and economic equity.”

Read More