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South Dakota’s minimum wage increase in 2020

Updated: Apr 22

This month we thank Minnehaha County Democratic Party member and advocate for the working poor, Cathy Brechtelsbauer for being our guest blogger.


Happy New Year! January 1 ushered in an increase for South Dakota’s minimum wage workers, $9.30/hour, up from $9.10 in 2019. It’s half for tipped employees, increasing to $4.65 from $4.55. (Wages and tips combined must equal at least minimum wage.)


South Dakota is one of 14 states with a January 1, 2020 increase. Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage is still $7.25. So how did South Dakota achieve a higher minimum wage than the federal minimum? And how does it get inflation adjustments?


You, dear reader, may have helped make it happen. A few years ago, when it wasn’t as hard for citizens to participate in ballot initiatives, South Dakotas were fed up with trying to get a majority of state legislators to raise the minimum wage. So, a team of citizens gathered signatures for a ballot initiative.


It had two measures in the single initiative. Recently passed legislation would force us to do this in two separate ballot initiatives.

  1. Raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50

  2. Adjust it annually for inflation


That’s why the minimum wage is higher in 2020. Thanks to signature-gathering citizens, the South Dakota voters in 2014 who passed it (55%) and our state forefathers who gave us the initiative process in 1898.


But wait, there’s more to the story. After the initiative passed, the next state legislature decided voters surely didn’t mean for teenagers to get more than $7.25. So, they took the new minimum away from our working young people. But we really did mean for ALL minimum wage workers. Next, the legislature’s action was referred to the voters. Blogger and advocate Cory Heidelberger organized the referendum. Once again citizens gathered signatures and helped educate voters to stop the legislature from altering our successful initiative. Once again, the citizens prevailed at the ballot box (71%) and the law applied absolutely to workers of all ages.


Let this remind us first, that many South Dakota workers are making only $9.30 per hour, still poverty wages, for their labor, but it is slightly better than the federal $7.25 per hour. Secondly, we know that citizen action matters. We’ve made a real difference in the lives of working people present and future. We know that it makes sense at times to have more than one issue in an initiative and that we need to work to take back and preserve our citizen democracy rights to initiative and referendum. Meanwhile, every January 1, we can appreciate past citizen action and all who work to influence public policies to give every South Dakotan a chance for a better life.


Happy New Year!

Cathy Brechtelsbauer

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