REPORT: Predominantly White State Legislatures Are Blocking Laws That Benefit Black Workers

By Kenrya Rankin Aug 30, 2017

On Monday (August 28), a Missouri state law went into effect that stripped more than 30,000 workers in St. Louis of a hard won local minimum wage increase, dropping their hourly pay floor from $10 an hour back to just $7.70.

But St. Louis isn’t the only city where state laws stand in the way of progress. A new brief from advocacy network Partnership for Working Families (PWF) found that this legislation is rampant, with predominantly-White legislative bodies passing laws that circumvent legislation that would benefit communities of color.

Released yesterday (August 29), “States Preempting Local Laws Are an Extension of Jim Crow” analyzes the situation in seven cities where workers of color are feeling the brunt of preemption legislation enacted by largely White legislatures: Atlanta, Birmingham, Cleveland, Durham, Memphis, New Orleans and St. Louis. On average, these cities are 55 percent Black, and the Black people in the lowest wage sector there earn just 80 cents on the dollar earned by their White counterparts. Meanwhile, Whites make up an average of 80 percent of the legislatures in the seven states represented.

Each of these cities tried to raise the minimum wage—and each was thwarted by a state legislature that passed a statute that prevented local governments from wielding its power to lift workers out of poverty.

“Preemption is portrayed as a struggle between political parties, but state interference in city minimum wage laws stems from a larger Jim Crow legacy of blocking economic policies that primarily benefit communities of color,” Nikki Fortunato Bas, PWF executive director, said in an emailed statement. “Both Democratic and Republican governors have approved preemption laws, but in most cases, it’s predominantly White legislatures overturning municipal laws passed by majority Black cities.”

Read more about PWF’s findings here.