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A woman stands outside the building where, in 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown, D-California, signed a bill hiking California's minimum wage to $15 by 2023. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

The minimum wage is increasing in these 21 states

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia are raising their minimum wages in 2019.

Hourly workers in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Washington state will see the minimum wage increase on or soon after Jan. 1.

In three places, the minimum wage increase will not take effect until later this year.

Michigan will increase its minimum wage in April.

The District of Columbia has the highest minimum wage in the United States at $13.25 an hour. On July 1, its minimum wage will rise to $14 an hour. In 2020, it will increase again to $15 per hour.

Oregon is also increasing its minimum wage in July, from $10.75 to $11.25 an hour, although that number will be slightly higher ($12 per hour) in Portland and slightly lower ($10 per hour) in rural areas to account for the difference in cost of living.

This is how the wage increases break down by state:

What about the federal minimum wage?

The federal minimum wage has not increased since 2009.

Eight states have minimum wages above the federal rate of $7.25 an hour but are not scheduled to increase their minimum wages in 2019. Those are Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico and West Virginia.

The remaining 21 states use the federal minimum wage: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Why now?

Many of the wage hikes are in response to the Fight for $15 movement, which began in 2012 when fast-food workers began walking of the job and demanding higher pay. While the federal minimum wage has not budged, cities and states have passed laws to boost the minimum wage locally.

Some of the 2019 hikes are part of laws that require wages to increase progressively each year. In California, the minimum wage is set to reach $15 per hour by 2023 for businesses with more than 25 employees. Washington state lawmakers passed a law that boosts its minimum wage to $12 this year and $13.50 in 2020.

The debate over the minimum wage has long divided both Americans and economists. A number of studies that have tried to measure whether wage hikes are beneficial or harmful to the U.S. economy have come to conflicting conclusions.

Proponents of higher wages say they are necessary to keep up with inflation and give low-wage workers more money to spend and, in turn, boost economic activity. Opponents say the free market economy should determine hourly wages. They say state-mandated wage hikes can hurt business, increase prices for consumers and even led to job loss.

And others say minimum wages are important, but city and states, rather than the federal government, should set them because the cost of living varies widely across the country.

A number of cities, including Seattle; Las Cruces, New Mexico; Flagstaff, Arizona, and a number of cities in California, are also raising their minimum wages this year, in some cases to a higher rate than respective states overall.

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