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Delaware minimum wage rises to $13.25

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Delaware moved to its last step before a $15 minimum wage on Jan. 1, but it has now fallen behind the pace of neighboring states in the move. | PHOTO COURTESY OF UNSPLASH/PEPI STOJANOVSKI

Delaware continued its march toward an eventual $15 minimum wage with an increase of $1.50 an hour on Monday.

The new hourly minimum wage of $13.25 an hour, effective Jan. 1, applies to tens of thousands of workers around the state – although perhaps not to the extent that proponents had envisioned in 2021 when they approved the prorated hikes that conclude next year.

The post-COVID labor market shortage has driven many employers around the state to raise their minimum wages to $15 or more though, even without advanced degrees or prior work experience.

According to current job ads, those include some of the most common entry-level jobs like McDonald’s, which is hiring at $15 an hour at several locations around the state; Amazon, hiring at $18 or more; and Target, hiring at $15.25 an hour, among others.

Delaware is one of 22 states that increased their minimum wage on Jan. 1, with three more states and Washington, D.C., scheduled for hikes later in the year.

When passed in 2021, Senate Bill 15 was projected to impact about 150,000 Delawareans, including then-35,000 workers earning the state’s base pay of $9.25. An accounting by the state Department of Labor in 2023 estimated that the number of workers affected by that year’s change was just 60,000 though. An updated figure for affected workers for 2024 was not available Tuesday.

Notably, agriculture and farm workers were exempt from the bill under Delaware’s labor laws.

While SB15 put Delaware on an aggressive pay bump schedule compared to its Mid-Atlantic neighbors in 2021, it has now fallen slightly behind. Maryland will push its minimum wage for all employees to $15 on Jan. 1, while New Jersey increases to $15.13 while the smallest businesses will have an additional two years to reach $15.

SB15 swiftly cleared the Democrat-controlled House and Senate in 2021, despite objections and concerns coming mostly from industry lobbyists, Republican lawmakers, some business owners and chambers of commerce throughout the state.

The bill spurred a contentious debate, as opponents of SB15 warned such an increase may cause employers to cut hours and positions, thus hurting the very people the bill is intended to help. Restaurant industry advocates said hospitality employers wouldn’t be able to absorb the steep increases in such a short amount of time. Some nonprofit leaders said they’d need more funding to afford the wage hike.

But others, including business owners, said the increase will help attract workers to Delaware with the promise of higher wages, therefore decreasing turnover and allowing Delaware to remain competitive with surrounding states.

Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, an advocacy group, pushed for the hike and organized some local small business owners to push its message here. They included Canalside Inn owner Kristen Deptula who said she has paid her employees $15 an hour since buying her Rehoboth Beach hotel in 2019.

“As a hospitality business, I know that happier employees make for happier customers. Fair pay drives our success. Employees can do a better job when they aren’t continually worried about how they are going to get by on wages that don’t even cover the basics. Delaware’s minimum wage increase will make for a happier New Year for workers and for businesses that will see a welcome boost in consumer spending,” she said in a statement ahead of the 2024 increase.

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