Labor thrives in some states. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

Amid gridlock in boardrooms and Congress on proposals to improve worker pay and employment conditions, state governments have taken the lead, forcing companies to raise minimums and add benefits.

The big picture: Most states have enacted minimum wages exceeding the federal $7.25-an-hour rate that's been in place for nine years. But there is a wide range of hourly rates and working conditions, and none of the state minimums provides a living wage for a family, says Oxfam in a new national study.

The background: Since the 1980s, the U.S, the U.K. and some other developed countries have largely stopped treating labor as an economic policy priority, focusing instead on corporate profit.

  • But states with labor organizing rights and accommodation for women before and after pregnancy had better GDP growth, lower poverty and infant mortality, and higher life expectancy and median income, the report said.
  • "We lost an understanding that when workers have protections, it helps families, the customers who rely on those services, and the larger economy," Minor Sinclair, director of Oxfam in the U.S., tells Axios.

The report found enormous disparities between some neighboring states, dramatized by the juxtaposition of Washington, DC (the best conditions) and Virginia (the worst).

  • Still, while most states have raised minimums to as high as $13.25 an hour (Washington, DC), in no state was the rate even half the living wage for a family of four, the report said.

According to Oxfam, the four best states to work, in rank after DC, were Washington state, California, Massachusetts and Vermont. The worst five, starting with No. 46, were North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Virginia.

Go deeper: Six classic profiles of the lives of workers, from The New Yorker.

Go deeper

Republicans and Dems react to Coney Barrett's Supreme Court confirmation

President Trump stands with Judge Amy Coney Barrett after she took the constitutional oath to serve as a Supreme Court justice during a White House ceremony Monday night .Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

President Trump said Judge Amy Coney Barrett's Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court and her subsequent taking of the constitutional oath Monday was a "momentous day," as she she vowed to serve "without any fear or favour."

  • But as Republicans applauded the third conservative justice in four years, many Democrats including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) warned of consequences to the rush to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ahead of the Nov. 3 election, with progressives leading calls to expand the court.
Ina Fried, author of Login
34 mins ago - Science

CRISPR pioneer: "Science is on the ballot" in 2020

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

In her three decades in science, Jennifer Doudna said she has seen a gradual erosion of trust in the profession, but the recent Nobel Prize winner told "Axios on HBO" that the institution itself has been under assault from the current administration.

  • "I think science is on the ballot," Doudna said in the interview.

Why it matters: That has manifested itself in everything from how the federal government approaches climate change to the pandemic.

Ted Cruz doesn't think the Hunter Biden attacks are working

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz told "Axios on HBO" he doesn't think the Trump campaign's focus on the Biden family's business dealings are having any sway with voters.

The big picture: After watching the Trump-Biden debate with "Axios on HBO" on Thursday night, Cruz said he thought Trump had done very well. But when asked whether he thought voters were moved by the release of the Hunter Biden emails, Cruz replied, "I don't think it moves a single voter."