Mike Wintroath / AP

Five states set to vote on minimum wage raises on Election Day

Moves to raise wages in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, Illinois and South Dakota come after a year of protests

Five states are gearing up for votes that could raise their minimum wages in Tuesday's general election, near the end of a year that saw protests in cities around the United States by workers demanding better wages.

A coalition of organizations called D15 has been been coordinating many of the demonstrations and strikes to push for a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, Illinois and South Dakota have proposals on their ballots to raise their state minimum wage requirements, which currently range from $6.25 to $8.25 an hour.

Four of the states lean Republican. Many in the party have traditionally opposed the government setting minimum wage limits, arguing that doing so could cause job losses and stifle economic growth.

This year’s ballot measures are largely expected to pass because every minimum wage initiative that has appeared on statewide ballots since 1996 has gained voter approval, according to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a U.S. liberal advocacy organization.

Over the past two years, 13 states and the District of Columbia have enacted minimum wage increases, raising pay for 7 million workers, according to a recent White House estimate.

Cities are also eyeing action. In June, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to phase in a $15 hourly minimum wage — the highest in the nation.

And in April, the Maryland legislature approved raising the state's minimum wage on to $10.10 an hour, equaling the highest state rate in the nation and drawing praise from President Barack Obama.

Maryland's minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour, and was last raised in 2006. The bill will raise it in stages to $10.10 in July 2018.

Connecticut passed legislation in March raising its minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017.

The U.S. federal minimum wage has remained static since 2009 at $7.25 per hour, which amounts to $15,080 in annual gross earnings based on a 40-hour workweek. That falls below the federal poverty line for families of two or more, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Republicans in Congress have stymied efforts to raise the federal minimum wage. In an attempt to partially circumvent this, President Barack Obama in February ordered companies with federal contracts to pay at least $10.10 an hour.

Adults over the age of 20 make up 88 percent of all workers who would receive a raise if the federal minimum wage were raised, according to Census data provided by the Economic Policy Institute.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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