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Photo By: 
Donald Norcross

Democrats Propose a $15 Federal Minimum Wage

The federal minimum wage would increase to $15 by 2024 and will be indexed to inflation

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jan 16, 2019

On January 1, 20 states increased their minimum wage, with some beginning to reach $15 an hour. While both red and blue states are starting to realize the importance of a higher minimum wage, the federal minimum wage has stayed stagnant at $7.25 since 2007.

At a press conference on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the introduction of a bill that would change that. The Raise the Wage Act, which is also being introduced in the Senate by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024 through incremental increases. It would also end a provision that allows companies to pay workers under 20 years of age or workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage.

“This bill achieves three critical goals: First, it gradually increases the minimum wage in six steps to $15 an hour by 2024. Second, it ensures that every worker is paid the full minimum wage by phasing out sub-minimum wages and creating one wage for all workers. Third, it ensures that the minimum wage keeps pace with inflation by tying future increases to inflation,” said Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) who is the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and will be the lead sponsor in the House. “We are here today because we believe that no American working full-time should be living in poverty. After nearly 10 years with no increase in the minimum wage, millions of working families are being left behind. This will increase the standard of living for 40 million Americans.”

According to Scott, 185 members of Congress have signed on to support the bill. Pelosi and Scott were joined by Senate supporters of the increase including Sanders, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). They were also flanked by minimum wage workers from around the country wearing shirts that read “Fast Food Workers $15 and a Union”.

“The harsh truth is that the minimum wage is no longer a living wage, it’s a poverty wage,” said Schumer. According to CNBC, adjusted for inflation the spending power of a minimum or low wage worker has decreased by 40% over the last five decades.

Over the past 7 years, the union-backed Fight for $15 has worked at both the federal and state levels to increase the minimum wage to a living wage. States like New York and California have passed laws to increase their minimum wages to $15 in the coming years and cities like New York City and Seattle are already at that threshold. However, 20 states still have a minimum wage that is lower than the federal minimum wage, at the same level, or have no minimum wage at all.

“Just a few short years ago, we were told that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour was ‘radical,’” Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), who sponsored the legislation in the Senate, said in a statement. “But a grassroots movement of millions of workers throughout this country refused to take ‘no’ for an answer.”

While the bill will have a difficult time passing in the Republican Senate, a vote by the Democrats in the House will not only show low wage Americans which party is willing to take action but will also put pressure on the Senate to consider a comprise to raise the federal wage. With the majority of states that have not raised their wage being represented by Republican Senators, there may be more pressure on them to take action as their constituents fall further and further behind.

“I remember where I came from. I was a single dad earning minimum wage,” said Congressman Donald Norcross (D-NJ), a former IBEW member. “It was $2.90 when I was earning it. If inflation and productivity had followed it would $18 an hour. That’s how far behind we are with this. This is about dignity and being able to take care of yourself. This is about fairness.”

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