Demanding an end to the "starvation wage" of $7.25 that has prevailed at the national level since 2009, a group of top House and Senate lawmakers on Tuesday introduced legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025—a move that would hike the pay of an estimated 32 million workers across the United States.
Led by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) in the House and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Senate, the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 (pdf) would phase in the $15 hourly minimum wage over the next four years and index it to median wage growth thereafter.
"No person in America can make it on $8, $10, or $12 an hour. In the United States of America a job must lift workers out of poverty, not keep them in it."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
The bill, which has the backing of both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), would also gradually phase out the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, teen workers, and workers with disabilities, ensuring that those workers are paid at least the full federal minimum wage.
Sanders, the incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said during a press call Tuesday that while he would prefer to implement the $15-an-hour floor more quickly, the legislation as is would "improve life substantially for millions and millions of workers."
"No person in America can make it on $8, $10, or $12 an hour," Sanders said in a statement. "In the United States of America a job must lift workers out of poverty, not keep them in it. We must raise the minimum wage to a living wage—at least $15 an hour."
"We can no longer tolerate millions of workers not being able to afford to feed their families or pay the rent," the Vermont senator added. "The time for talk is over. No more excuses. It is time for Congress to act to raise the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour."
"As we increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, we will be giving over 32M Americans, a much needed raise ... Your average low-wage worker in America would receive an extra $3,300 each and every year." @SenSanders#RaiseTheWage #FightFor15 pic.twitter.com/glOqcTyjMQ
— Fight For 15 (@fightfor15) January 26, 2021
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While cities and states across the nation have hiked their minimum wages in recent years in response to tireless advocacy by the grassroots Fight for $15 movement, the federal minimum wage has been stagnant for more than a decade, the longest stretch without an increase since the minimum wage was enshrined into law in 1938.
"Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 will help reduce poverty, narrow racial and gender pay gaps, and stimulate the economy. Minimum wage workers deserve a raise. Now is the time for Congress to give it to them."
—Ben Zipperer, Economic Policy Institute
"As a longtime organizer for working people who helped draft the resolution that made Seattle the first major city to enact a $15 minimum wage, I know that raising the wage is good for workers, families, businesses, and the economy," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "It is time for the People's House to once again stand up for workers, fight for families, and pass the Raise the Wage Act so we finally have a $15 minimum wage all across America."
The Democrat-controlled House passed an earlier version of the Raise the Wage Act in July of 2019, but the then-Republican-controlled Senate refused to allow a vote on the measure.
During Tuesday's press call, Sanders expressed confidence that with Democratic control of the House, the Senate, and the presidency, the Raise the Wage Act finally has a strong chance of becoming law. The Vermont senator added that he is working on a plan to structure the minimum wage increase so it can clear the Senate through the budget reconciliation process, which is filibuster-proof and thus requires just a simple-majority vote.
"Do I think we have 50 votes plus one [from Vice President Kamala Harris] to pass a $15-an-hour minimum wage? I absolutely believe that we do," said the Vermont senator.
In a statement Tuesday, Ben Zipperer of the Economic Policy Institute said that the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 is "not just moral policy, it is also good economics."
"A $15 minimum wage by 2025 would generate $107 billion in higher wages for workers," said Zipperer. "Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 will help reduce poverty, narrow racial and gender pay gaps, and stimulate the economy. Minimum wage workers deserve a raise. Now is the time for Congress to give it to them."