Hailed as frontline heroes during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, America's retail workers, cleaning staff and delivery people aren’t paid like heroes.
These roles are often minimum-wage jobs, which pay just $7.25 an hour in many states. The federal minimum wage hasn't budged since the summer of 2009, the longest stretch without an increase since it was introduced in the 1930s.
It's practically impossible to get by on that amount of money, and you can forget about building up any savings.
Thankfully, workers in 29 states and many cities are paid a higher minimum wage than federal law requires — and some are getting a pay bump this summer.
These are the 15 states that are now on top, counting down to the state with the best minimum wage around.
14. (tie) Illinois
Minimum wage: $11 per hour
In 2019, Illinois’ governor signed legislation to slowly increase the state’s minimum wage until it lands at $15 an hour in 2025.
The minimum wage is currently $11 for most hourly workers, $6.60 for employees that get tips and $8.50 for youths.
The state government hoped the most recent wage increase in January would jump-start an economy struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The thought behind that is that when you put money in those workers' hands ... they will go out and spend it, and it will distribute around the economy and raise everyone’s economic level up, including businesses,” Department of Labor Assistant Director Jason Keller told local media in December.
While the plan made sense, minimum-wage workers still need to be very careful with their extra spending money. It's a good idea to use a free browser extension to scan the internet for lower prices when you shop online.
14. (tie) Arkansas
Minimum wage: $11 per hour
Arkansas, once officially appointed the Land of Opportunity, gave low-wage workers the chance to earn a bit extra this year.
In 2018, voters approved three wage increases, the third of which took effect Jan. 1, raising the minimum wage to $11 hourly.
About 213,000 people got a direct pay bump, according to a 2018 study from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, which expected another 88,000 workers making slightly more than minimum wage to get a bump as employers pay more to keep them.
The minimum wage in Arkansas, the birthplace of Walmart, is higher than any of its neighbors. Missouri’s is closest, at $10.30.
13. Rhode Island
Minimum wage: $11.50 per hour
America's smallest state gives its minimum-wage workers some of the biggest paychecks. On Oct. 1, 2020, the state's minimum wage increased to $11.50, up from $10.50.
And the state recently passed legislation that will further increase the minimum each year until it hits $15 on Jan. 1, 2025.
Leaders in Rhode Island said the state's minimum wage needs to get higher to stay competitive with neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts. The government says an estimated 25,000 workers in the Ocean State make the minimum.
Rhode Island employers are also required to pay workers time-and-a-half for Sundays and holidays.
11. (tie) Vermont
Minimum wage: $11.75 per hour
Though next-door New Hampshire has stuck with the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, Vermont has been lifting its rate to keep up with the cost of living.
Low-paid workers in the Green Mountain State got a 79-cent increase for 2021, up from the previous minimum wage of $10.96 an hour. A bill passed by the Vermont Legislature in 2020 increases the minimum wage by a combined $1.59 over two years, reaching $12.55 in 2022.
This year's adjustment also impacted tipped employees, who saw base wages upped from $5.48 an hour to $5.88 an hour.
A state study found Vermont's minimum wage isn't enough to live on. For a working couple to get by in the state, each partner needs to earn at least $13.34 per hour, the Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office reported.
When money's tight, passing on luxuries isn't enough; you need to save money on essentials, too. You might use this cash-back app to save on groceries just by taking a photo of your receipt.
11. (tie) Maryland
Minimum wage: $11.75 an hour
In Maryland, the state with the highest median household income ($86,738 in 2019, according to census data, the poorest workers have begun getting annual New Year's Day raises.
Like several other states on this list, Maryland is raising its minimum wage in stages, on the way to an eventual $15 an hour. That level will be reached in 2025, under a bill that became law in 2019.
For 2021, the minimum increased from $11 to $11.75. In wealthy Montgomery County outside Washington, D.C., an increase on July 1 meant businesses with at least 51 employees now pay at least $15 hourly.
9. (tie) New Jersey
Minimum wage: $12 per hour
Minimum-wage hikes have become part of the fabric of New Jersey — like the state's unique law that doesn't let motorists pump their own gas.
A bill that the governor signed into law in early 2019 calls for annual $1 raises every January until 2024. That's when the Garden State's minimum will hit $15 for most workers.
The latest increase — from $11 to $12 as of Jan. 1 — put New Jersey among 20 states raising the minimum wage for the new year.
The route to $15 per hour "will grow our economy, uplift working families, make our state more affordable and ensure fairness for future generations," Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy wrote on Twitter when the minimum wage was first increased.
9. (tie) Connecticut
Minimum wage: $12 per hour
Connecticut is also marching its way toward a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
The latest raise went into effect on Sept. 1, when the rate got bumped from $11 to $12 hourly. It will hit $13 on Aug. 1, climbing by $1 every 11 months until the magic level of $15 is achieved in June 2023.
Gov. Ned Lamont and fellow Democrats in the Connecticut legislature say a higher minimum wage will make the Nutmeg State more appealing for workers and stop people from leaving.
7. (tie) Maine
Minimum wage: $12.15 per hour
In Maine — where you find more than 65 lighthouses, over 60,000 moose and a lobster industry worth $1.5 billion a year — the minimum wage has been rising steadily from $7.50 an hour, where it sat in 2016.
After a series of $1 New Year's Day raises lifted the rate to $12 last year, the Pine Tree State's minimum will now see smaller yearly increases to keep in step with inflation. It received a small bump to $12.15 in 2021.
“The modest 15-cent increase in 2021 will help the minimum wage keep pace with the cost of living and preserve the wage floor for minimum-wage workers,” said Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman, who also pointed to a study showing most workers in Maine that earned minimum wage were 25 years old or older, and two thirds were women.
7. (tie) Arizona
Minimum wage: $12.15 per hour
The one they call the Grand Canyon State — which also is known for its Wild West history, college football's Fiesta Bowl and "dry heat" — has been steadily pushing up its minimum wage under a ballot measure voters approved in 2016.
A New Year's hike tied to the rising cost of living delivered a $12.15 minimum wage for 2021, up a few pennies from $12 last year.
A local ballot initiative in 2016 gave the city of Flagstaff, Arizona, its very own minimum wage. The minimum there jumped to $15 an hour on Jan. 1, 2021.
If your low wages weren't enough to see you safely through the pandemic, you might have racked up a hefty amount of credit card debt. Those sky-high interest rates will only make matters worse over time, so consider rolling all your balances into one, low-interest consolidation loan.
Minimum wage: $12.32 per hour
The Centennial State's minimum wage went up to $12.32 on New Year's Day, from $12 in 2020.
But you can earn an even higher rate if you live in Denver. Taking advantage of a law that allows Colorado cities to set their own minimums, the Mile High City is requiring employers to pay at least $14.77 an hour in 2021, before reaching $15.87 next year.
Local officials said they planned to go ahead with the scheduled increase despite recent challenges for businesses.
“This was not an easy decision, but as our economy recovers — and we know it will — we don’t want to leave behind our minimum-wage workers,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock wrote on Facebook.
5. New York
Minimum wage: $12.50 per hour
In New York, where subway fares, State Thruway tolls and upstate snowfall totals seem to go up routinely, the minimum wage is making regular increases, too.
Thanks to a New Year's Eve raise, workers across the Empire State are now earning a minimum of $12.50 an hour in 2021, up from $11.80 in 2020.
The state is aiming to get to the $15-an-hour level, and some areas are arriving there faster than others. New York City is already at $15, and Long Island and Westchester are scheduled to join the Big Apple at $15 by the end of 2021.
The planned increases are moving forward despite some business advocates calling for a pause, citing the coronavirus pandemic’s deep financial impact on retailers and restaurants.
Minimum wage: $12.75 per hour
Minimum-wage workers in Oregon are getting raises every summer under a 2016 law.
The latest increase went into effect on July 1 and took the Beaver State's minimum to $12.75 an hour, up from $12. The final hike in the series is scheduled for 2022 and will require that workers be paid at least $13.50 an hour.
After that, Oregon will make annual increases in line with inflation.
But here's something quirky: The state's standard minimum wage applies in fewer than half of Oregon's counties. The Portland metro area has a higher rate than $12.75 (now $14 an hour) and the rest of the state is called "nonurban" and has a lower one ($12).
If you live in a "nonurban" area, you probably have to drive to get around. One of the most effective ways to make room in your monthly budget is to check for a better deal on your car insurance. Using a quote comparison site to shop around could save you as much as $1,100 a year.
Minimum wage: $13.50 per hour
Massachusetts is yet another state driving toward a minimum wage of $15 an hour; the goal is to get there in 2023.
The latest step has given the Bay State's lowest-paid workers a 75-cent raise for 2021. The previous minimum was $12.75.
Massachusetts workers who receive tips got a raise in their base pay from $4.95 to $5.55 hourly. They'll be getting $6.75 by 2023, but some members of the state Legislature have argued that it's time to do away with the low "tipped wage."
Minimum wage: $13.69 per hour
In Washington, a state known for soaring mountain peaks and skyscraping man-made wonders like the Seattle Space Needle, the minimum wage has gone to similar heights.
A New Year's increase raised the Evergreen State's minimum from last year’s $13.50. Statewide increases are now tied to inflation.
Meanwhile, two Washington cities have already reached the popular $15-an-hour level — and then some.
With the start of 2021, employers in Seattle are required to pay at least $16.69 an hour. And in SeaTac, which is home to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, hospitality and transportation workers now have a minimum wage of $16.57.
Minimum wage: $14 per hour
An honorable mention to Washington, D.C., which raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour on July 1, but the heavily populated and pricey California is No. 1 on this list of states.
The minimum wage here has been going up by $1 a year, so that by 2022 workers in the Golden State will be required to earn at least — you guessed it — $15 an hour.
But a number of California communities aren't waiting and are already at or above the $15 mark, especially in Silicon Valley. In 2021, San Jose is at $15.45 and Apple's hometown of Cupertino is paying $15.65.
The state's leader is Emeryville, the San Francisco suburb that's home to the Toy Story animation studio Pixar. The minimum wage there jumped last summer from $16.30 to $16.84 an hour.
Even if your minimum wage is going up, or higher than the federal floor, it's not a lot of money. If you've got some extra time in your day, try turning it into free gift cards by filling out surveys and watching fun videos through a rewards program.