The 12 States That Pay the Highest Minimum Wage

Some states are more worker-friendly than others.
Minimum wage varies by state.
Minimum wage varies by state. / PM Images/Stone via Getty Images

California disrupted the wage worker industry this year when it announced a new $20 minimum hourly rate for fast food workers. The move has prompted giants like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and others to cut positions and hike prices.

Corporations may not be happy, but state laws are increasingly bolstering minimum wage bumps to address longstanding misalignment between service-industry earnings and extreme cost of living increases. (At the federal level, minimum wage is just $7.25—the same as it was in 2009.)

Recently, finance hub Visual Capitalist collected the 11 states—plus one district—that can boast of the highest minimum wages. All of them virtually double the federal rate, paying workers at least $14 an hour. The breakdown:

  1. District of Columbia // $17
  2. Washington // $16.28
  3. California // $16
  4. Connecticut // $15.69
  5. New Jersey // $15.13
  6. Maryland // $15
  7. New York // $15
  8. Massachusetts // $15
  9. Colorado // $14.42
  10. Arizona // $14.35
  11. Oregon // $14.20
  12. Maine // $14.15

The District of Columbia mandates $17.50 an hour, the highest minimum wage in the country currently. (The minimum is set to take effect July 1, 2024. As of this writing, it’s $17.) The district is also looking out for tipped workers: They make a minimum $10 beginning in July, up from $8.

The state with the highest minimum is Washington at $16.28, followed closely by California at $16. Both may be outpaced come 2028, when Hawaii plans on raising the minimum from $14 to $18.

Just as states have the latitude to raise wages, so do cities. In the Portland, Oregon, metro area, workers earn $15.45. (In non-urban areas, it’s $13.20.) While Washington is the top state, it pays to be in a specific area: Seattle offers workers $19.97 per hour. In Tukwila, Washington, companies with 500 or more employees must pay $20.29 hourly—currently the highest in the country.

While many states are proactive in acknowledging affordability, some are not. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, five states—Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee—have no state minimum wage, which means they default to the federal minimum. Two states, Wyoming and Georgia, set their minimum below $7.25. Again, federal law supersedes it. But in Georgia, an employee must be covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act. If not, their wage defaults to $5.15 hourly.

Naturally, wages only tell part of the story when it comes to cost of living. While these states are the most generous from a wage worker standpoint, they also tend to rank toward the top when it comes to cost of living. Only Arizona and Maine are middle-of-the-road, coming in at 29 and 30 on the U.S. News and World Report ranking of affordability. The most affordable state, Mississippi, sticks to the federal minimum.

California’s fast food employee law is sometimes seen as emblematic of companies who will pass wage hike expenses on to consumers. Recently, burger franchise In-N-Out president Lynsi Snyder pushed back on that, vowing the company wouldn’t dramatically raise prices.

[h/t Visual Capitalist]