Florida’s minimum wage is increasing by $1 a year after voters approved the increase in November 2020. (Photo: Pexels/Towfiqu barbhuiya)
2 years ago this week, on November 3, 2020, Floridians voted to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour through 2026. It was raised to $11 an hour at the end of last month. WMFE’s Talia Blake spoke with Florida Policy Institute CEO Sadaf Knight about raising the minimum wage and what to do when you’re not getting the money you’re owed.
Listen to the full interview in the player above.
It’s been a month since minimum wage workers saw an extra dollar in their paychecks.
The first increase in the minimum wage to $10 an hour in 2021 would benefit about 600,000 workers in Florida, according to Knight.
“It’s going to have a positive impact on our economy, especially when we think about people who are struggling to cope with the rising cost of living, inflation and so on,” she said.
When the $15 minimum wage is fully in effect in 2026, Knight said more than one in four Floridians will benefit.
“It benefits workers in industries like retail and food service,” she explained. “Industries that are heavily concentrated in Florida, and particularly here in Central Florida.”
Wage theft is not paying employees what they are rightfully owed.
Knight said wage theft is a problem in parts of Central Florida in places that tend to pay low wages. “Prior to the passage of the minimum wage, 15% of these workers were paid less than the state minimum wage.”
Industries like hospitality, retail and food service tend to see more cases of wage theft, according to Knight. With so many theme parks and attractions, these types of industries are prevalent in Central Florida.
“Obviously, we see a pretty high concentration in counties like Osceola County,” Knight said. “But in Central Florida overall, about 42% of workers fall into these industries.”
If you find yourself facing a wage theft problem, Knight said there are several avenues you can take, but it’s up to you to take the first step.
“They have to really confront their employer about it first and then they can file a lawsuit,” she said. “And that really puts a lot of onus on the individual staff to have the resources and ability to do that.”
The other option workers have is to contact the Florida attorney general, who can also file a civil suit against the employer, but Knight said there is no evidence that has ever actually happened.
Finally, workers who live in a county with wage theft ordinances can file a complaint through the county.
“Miami Dade has one. Broward, Alachua, Hillsborough, Osceola County, they all have ordinances or wage collection programs to help employees get the wages they are owed,” Knight said.
Minimum wage vs. cost of living
As the minimum wage rises, so does the cost of living. Many Floridians are struggling with the effects of inflation, making it difficult to buy groceries or gas for their cars.
Knight said raising the minimum wage is great and long overdue, but it’s not necessarily what’s needed to live comfortably in Florida.
“Going up to $15 an hour actually puts Florida among the states in the South that have the highest minimum wage, which is great for Florida to be a leader in this,” she said. What do people actually need to be able to really make ends meet and be able to achieve economic security?’
Between the high cost of living and inflation, Knight said the minimum wage isn’t enough.
“We should also be thinking about how to get people to a living wage where they can really be financially stable and sustainable,” she said.