German lawmakers have approved a minimum hourly wage of 8.50 euros, backing a controversial proposal that would cover many workers starting next year. The amount is equal to more than $11.50 at today's exchange rate.

By comparison, the U.S. is debating raising its minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. The highest planned hourly rate in the nation is in Seattle, where it will rise to $15 next year. Other cities and states (and some businesses) are phasing in raises to get hourly pay in the $10 to $11 range in coming years.

The new minimum wage law would be unprecedented in Germany, one of seven EU countries that don't have minimum wage requirements on the books. It took shape as a compromise deal between two parties: the Social Democrats and Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats.

From Berlin, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports:

"German Labor and Social Affairs Minister Andrea Nahles told the parliament that it was high time for their country to offer people a minimum wage." 'For years, workers have been industrious, cheap and without protection, but those times are over,' she said to applause from the lawmakers."But there are exceptions as to who is eligible. Those excluded are workers under 18, interns or trainees, and the longtime unemployed for the first six months they are back at work. Some employers will also get a grace period of up to two years before having to pay the minimum wage."

With the approval of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, the new wage is now pending upper house approval.

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