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Bernie Sanders' "Raise the Wage Act" Would Make Life Better for 40 Million Americans: Analysis

A new Economic Policy Institute report also debunks the myth that raising the federal minimum wage primarily helps teenagers working for spending money

fight for $15

In recent years, the grassroots Fight for $15 movement has organized strikes and demonstrations across the United States. (Photo: Stand Up KC/Twitter)

By increasing the federal minimum wage over the next five years, the Raise the Wage Act of 2019 would boost the incomes and improve the lives of an estimated 40 million Americans, according to an analysis out Tuesday from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Introduced last month by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the bill would raise the federal hourly minimum wage from $7.25—which Sanders calls "a starvation wage"—to a living wage of $15 by 2024. It would also require employees to pay the new minimum to tipped workers, who currently can make as little as $2.31 an hour.

EPI senior economic analyst David Cooper used EPI's minimum wage simulation model—which pulls data from the American Communities Survey, the Current Population Survey, and the Congressional Budget Office—to predict the likely impacts of the proposal on American workers' paychecks.

Cooper found that the bill would directly lift the wages of 28.1 million workers—leading to a $4,000 increase in annual wage income, or a raise of about 21 percent, for a full-time worker—and "another 11.6 million workers would benefit from a spillover effect as employers raise wages of workers making more than $15 in order to attract and retain employees."

The report also debunks myths touted by Republican lawmakers and other critics of the grassroots Fight for $15 movement, explaining that "the vast majority of workers who typically benefit from minimum wage increases do not fit the common portrayal of low-wage workers primarily as teenagers from middle-class families, who are working part time after school, or as 'stay-at-home' parents...who are picking up some work on the side and whose 'secondary earnings' are inconsequential to their family's financial health."

Overall, according to EPI, a total of 39.7 million workers would benefit from the legislation, including:

  • 38.6 million adults ages 18 and older
  • 23.8 million full-time workers
  • 23.0 million women
  • 11.2 million parents
  • 5.4 million single parents
  • The parents of 14.4 million children

Cooper's analysis also shows that the bill would disproportionately help workers—and their families—living at or below the poverty line, with more than two-thirds of the working poor positioned to see wage increases if the legislation were implemented as it was introduced.

In addition to helping millions of Americans escape poverty, the bill would also benefit the economy more broadly. "Because lower-paid workers spend much of their extra earnings," the report outlines, "this injection of wages would help stimulate the economy and spur greater business activity and job growth."

Advocates of the proposal are quick to point out that federal lawmakers haven't updated the national rules since 2009—and, as Cooper noted in a statement, "in that time, the minimum wage has lost almost 15 percent of its value to inflation."

"In fact, America's workers are more productive and better educated than ever, and yet many are paid less today than their counterparts 50 years ago," Cooper added. "It is long past time that we raise the federal minimum wage to a level that affords a decent life."

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