CHEYENNE — Wyoming is one of more than a dozen states that will look at an increase in their minimum wages this year.
The movement stems from President Barack Obama's pitch for a higher minimum wage. Although the president's initiative is not moving, many states have picked up the issue for their legislative sessions, including neighboring Nebraska.
Women's organizations and other supporters say the minimum wage is tied to the gender wage gap.
A boost in the minimum wage is expected to narrow Wyoming's general wage gap, which is the worst in the nation.
A new analysis by the National Women's Law Center said the average gender wage gap in states with minimum wages above the federally mandated $7.25 is 3 cents smaller than in Wyoming and nine other states with the widest gaps in pay between men and women.
Wyoming House Bill 45, sponsored by Rep. James Byrd, D-Cheyenne, would increase the state minimum wage from $5.15 to $9 per hour for nontipped employees and from $2.13 to $5 per hour for tipped employees
His bill will require a two-thirds majority vote to be considered in the Legislature's 20-day budget session, which begins today.
The Wyoming Women's Foundation has not taken a position on House Bill 45. But Rebekah Smith, the organization's program director, said two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women, and raising wages for women would have an impact on the gender wage gap.
Byrd's bill would affect 9,000 Wyoming workers at or below the current minimum wage, according to the state Bureau of Labor Statistics. A bureau report cautions that it's difficult to make estimates because Wyoming's working population is small, making the estimate subject to sampling error.
Dan Neal, executive director of the Equality State Policy Center, said a higher minimum would result in a larger effect than on the people working at the minimum wage level, for employers would pay more to keep workers who are getting slightly more than the minimum wage.
The higher pay would put more money in peoples' pockets. They would spent more money, which would help the community and the economy, he said.
"I think people should think about it. I think the legislators will see there's a lot of support among their constituents," Neal added.
Byrd said a $9 per-hour minimum wage was not a living wage but was a step in the right direction.
He said he does not believe opponents' claims it would increase unemployment. The higher pay would help businesses and ease the difference between living wages and the need for food stamps and other public assistance, he said.