The minimum wage could finally get an increase, but it’s not so simple. Included as a part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 pandemic plan, Democrats aim to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a labor advocate and chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said the COVID-19 relief bill will include a minimum wage increase of $15 an hour. The bill would phase in the increase through 2025. Locked in at $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage has not increased since 2009.
Sanders said Wednesday that the only way the increase would happen is through the budget reconciliation process. Senate Democrats opted to move through budget reconciliation as a way to pass needed relief as quickly as possible rather than compromising on skimpy alternatives.
Democrats on the House side also fought to include the historic increase, as Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal spearheaded an effort to get the minimum wage increase into the next COVID-19 relief bill.
While some states have opted for a higher minimum wage, Georgia and Wyoming are the only two states with a state wage less than the federal minimum. Because of fair labor standards, most employees in those two states are subject to the federal minimum wage.
Meanwhile, workers in Los Angeles County are not waiting for the federal government to act. Fast-food workers went on strike this week in part to demand better working conditions but also to bring attention to the Fast Recovery Act. Introduced by California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the act would focus on systemic issues and workplace conditions in the fast-food industry exacerbated by the pandemic.
California currently has a state minimum wage of $12 an hour. It will increase to $15 next year. States like New Jersey, Illinois and Maryland also have phased in $15 an hour minimum wage laws that have been passed.
According to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, the cost for a modest standard of living for a single adult is $31,200 a year. It’s estimated that raising the minimum wage would have an immediate benefit on one-third of Black workers and one-quarter of Latino workers.
Opponents of the $15 minimum wage continue to argue that $10 or $11 would be good enough, but rarely consider the actual cost of living across the country. Corporate opposition often quietly disregards the increased profits during a global health pandemic.
Although a recent Congressional Budget Office report suggested raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour could cause job loss and other systemic issues, at least one economist is calling that view “a bit too pessimistic.” In an interview on the Make Me Smart Podcast, economist Arindrajit Dube pointed to the passage of the $15 minimum wage without issue when it is a ballot measure versus the politics of wage increases in the legislature.
Recent polling commissioned by the National Employment Law Project shows increasing the federal minimum wage was popular in congressional swing districts. From the results, 62% of those polled including 59% in Republican swing districts were in favor of the increase.