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Florida minimum wage reaches $12, but inflation dampens impact

Florida’s minimum wage increased to $12 an hour Saturday on its way to reaching $15, but its impact on workers likely has been diminished due to high inflation and already higher wages prompted in part by a tight labor market, experts say.

“The problem still remains that after the pandemic the cost of living and the cost of rent soared,” said Josa Eve Alvarez, communications coordinator with Central Florida Jobs With Justice. “With everything being so high, there’s only so much that these annual dollar increases can really do for minimum wage workers.”

The state’s minimum wage is increasing by $1 every Sept. 30 until it hits $15 in 2026. Voters approved the increases in 2020.

But the economic situation has changed since then. In addition to inflation offsetting the benefit of the new minimum wage, it is likely that a tight labor market the past few years has also already absorbed the increase, said Hector Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

“It’s not really going to do what people thought when they approved this,” Sandoval said. “This increase will kind of not really do much, just given the economic situation that we’re just facing.”

Some of Orlando’s major employers are already paying much more than $12 an hour.

Union workers at Walt Disney World approved a contract in March that raised the minimum wage for full-time workers there to $17 an hour and then $18 an hour this December.

That followed Universal Orlando revealing in February its minimum wage was going from $15 to $17 an hour starting in June.

Restaurant wages have also gone up as they compete to hire and keep employees. For example, Orlando-based Hawkers chain in 2021 gave workers raises and increased its non-tipped minimum wage to $15 an hour, which led to improved staffing. It has Central Florida restaurants in the Mills 50 neighborhood and Windermere.

Hawkers Asian Street Food’s staffing woes were a mess. Raising wages fixed it.

Still, restaurant and retail employees are the workers who would likely be most affected by Saturday’s bump, according to Sandoval.

The median hourly wage for food preparation and serving jobs in the Orlando area was $13.93, according to federal wage estimates for May 2022. The minimum wage in the state at that time was $10 an hour.

More specifically, for fast food and counter workers that figure was just $11.43, while fast food cooks made $12.57. Cashiers working at places including retailers, gas stations and restaurants, but not financial institutions, made $13.11.

Orlando’s median wage for all jobs was $18.76 as of May 2022.

While the $12 minimum wage sets a base level, Alvarez hopes employers who want to be competitive in hiring workers will offer even more.

“That encourages employers to then adopt better wages,” Alvarez said.