Sen. Bernie Sanders

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at a rally in Parma, Ohio on June 21, 2024.

(Photo: Tristan Rader/

Decrying 'Starvation Wages,' Sanders Rallies for Ohio's $15 Minimum Initiative

"We got an economy that's doing phenomenally well for the people on top," said Sen. Bernie Sanders. "But 60% of our people are living paycheck to paycheck."

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders traveled to Parma, Ohio on Thursday to rally support for a proposed ballot initiative that would incrementally raise the state's minimum wage from $10.45 an hour to $15 by 2026, subsequently indexing it to inflation.

"I grew up in a family living paycheck to paycheck," Sanders (I-Vt.) said during the rally hosted by United Auto Workers Local 1005. "You know what that is? That means you have to make a decision as to what you can buy or what you can afford to buy. That means you live under tremendous stress."

Sanders noted that the initiative—which, if approved for the November ballot and passed by voters, would amend the state's constitution—would benefit more than 1 million workers in Ohio, a key battleground state where the legislature is currently controlled by Republicans opposed to the ballot measure.

Cleveland.comreported that Thursday's event came at "a pivotal time for the issue campaign."

"Amendment backers, which include organized labor groups, have until July 3 to submit roughly 413,000 valid signatures from Ohio voters, including a minimum number from at least 44 of the state's 88 counties," the outlet noted. "The campaign is shooting for 700,000 signatures, to account for those that inevitably are rejected, and surpassed 500,000 last week, according to a campaign spokesperson."

The senator acknowledged ahead of Thursday's rally that $15 an hour is still "not a whole lot" given elevated costs of living, "but it's a lot better than $10.45."

"The reality is that right now in this country, we got an economy that's doing phenomenally well for the people on top," said Sanders. "But 60% of our people are living paycheck to paycheck, and millions of people are working for starvation wages."

Last year, Sanders introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate that would raise the federal minimum wage—long stagnant at $7.25—to $17 an hour by 2028.

The Ohio initiative is led by One Fair Wage, a nonprofit working across the United States to lift wages and put an end to subminimum wages for tipped workers. The proposed Ohio ballot measure would phase out the state's $5.25-an-hour subminimum wage by 2029.

Economist Michael Shields noted in a recent brief that, if approved, the Ohio initiative would "generate $2 billion in new annual earnings by 2026."

Shields estimated that the average impacted worker would bring home an additional $2,128 each year due to the wage increase.

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