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How Florida wound up with a $15 minimum wage | Editorial
Geography played a key role in how people voted.
Trayvonne Williams, 19, poses for a portrait after participating in a caravan to several area McDonalds restaurants to advocate for increasing the minimum wage to $15 by voting yes on amendment 2 in November, on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020 in Tampa.
Trayvonne Williams, 19, poses for a portrait after participating in a caravan to several area McDonalds restaurants to advocate for increasing the minimum wage to $15 by voting yes on amendment 2 in November, on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020 in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Nov. 4, 2020

Floridians voted to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next few years. Or perhaps it would be better to say that Floridians who live in large counties passed the increase, despite strong opposition from smaller counties.

In fact, only 10 of Florida’s 67 counties reached the 60 percent threshold required to pass a constitutional amendment. But the counties included most of the state’s largest, including Hillsborough. Pinellas feel just short of 60 percent, and Pasco recorded 56 percent “yes” votes.

Miami-Dade cast more than 750,000 votes in favor of increasing the wage, accounting for nearly 12 percent of all “yes” votes. The statewide vote tally was 6.4 million in favor vs. 4.1 million opposed.

Dig deeper and it’s clear that Miami-Dade and three other counties drove the success — Broward, Palm Beach and Orange. More than 71 percent of voters in those counties supported the amendment. That’s nearly 2.4 million “yes” votes from just four counties.

Compare that to the four counties most opposed — Calhoun, Lafayette, Gilchrist and Baker. Residents there voted “no” at least 65 percent of the time. But that translates to only 22,602 “no” votes. Expand the comparison to the 20 counties most opposed, and the “no” vote tally rises to just 207,000.

The numbers — 2.4 million yeses vs. 207,000 noes — illustrate the larger theme: A handful of densely populated urban areas outvoted dozens of sparsely populated rural ones. The few Goliaths prevailed over the many Davids.

Amendment 2 raises the state’s $8.56 minimum wage to $10 next September. After that, the wage goes up $1 each year until it reaches $15 an hour in September 2026. The wage then rises with annual inflation, as it does now.

The geographic disparity highlights an important issue: A statewide $15 minimum wage is a blunt economic instrument. It mandates the same minimum for every job, regardless of experience, skill level or the size of the business. It also fails to account for the varying costs of living. Miami is a lot more expensive than Mayo. So too is Tampa, compared to Brooksville. A $15 minimum makes more sense in larger counties, where wages are already higher. But in smaller places, the higher wage will result in more job losses and less job creation.

The better solution would have been for the Legislature to allow local jurisdictions to set their own minimums, higher than the state minimum. If St. Petersburg wants $15, go for it. But don’t saddle smaller, less economically vibrant places with the same increase.

Fifteen dollars is 75 percent more than today’s wage. That’s a steep increase for many small businesses, especially ones barely getting by. Voters in smaller counties seemed to understand those consequences.

By the numbers: The 10 counties with the most “yes” votes on Amendment 2

1. Miami-Dade: 751,866

2. Broward: 666,522

3. Palm Beach: 503,661

4. Orange: 429,155

5. Hillsborough: 402,095

6. Pinellas: 312,569

7. Duval: 278,164

8. Lee: 210,778

9. Brevard: 190,475

10. Polk: 187,576

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news