It's Time for a National $15 Minimum Wage

A minimum wage demonstration in 2015. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue/flickr/cc)

It's Time for a National $15 Minimum Wage

It has been 10 long years since Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage. It’s time to raise it for all Americans. 

In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, a basic principle of American economic life should be that if you work 40 hours or more a week, you do not live in poverty. Sadly, that is not the case today.

While large corporations make record-breaking profits and top CEOs earn about 335 times more an hour than the average worker, millions of Americans are trying to survive on totally inadequate wages. The situation has become so absurd that there is not a single state in our country where a full-time minimum wage worker can easily afford a one-bedroom apartment.

The current $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage is a starvation wage. It must be raised to a living wage. That is why we will be introducing legislation to raise it to $15 an hour by 2024 and automatically adjust it thereafter to keep up with the rising cost of living.

It has been 10 long years since Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage. Since 1968, the minimum wage has lost more than 25 percent of its purchasing power as millions of Americans work longer hours for lower wages. After adjusting for inflation, the minimum wage is worth less today than it was 50 years ago.

The erosion of the federal minimum wage is a major reason why more than 43 million Americans are living in poverty today. People are working, and they're working hard. But they're going nowhere in a hurry. Health-care costs are going up, child-care costs are going up, college costs are going up, and housing costs are going up. Wages are not. That has got to change.

Thanks to the "Fight for $15" grass-roots movement, the cities of Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C., are raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The states of California and New York are doing the same. As a result of these efforts, more than 10 million workers in America will see their wages raised to $15 an hour. We've got to do the same nationally.

By phasing in a pay raise for tens of millions of workers, we can improve living standards, lift families out of poverty, and provide a much-needed boost to our economy. Our bill will raise the wages of 41 million workers -- an extra $3,500 a year in pay for full-time workers.

Today, almost 70 percent of our gross domestic product is dependent upon the purchasing power of consumers. When low-wage workers have money in their pockets, they spend that money in restaurants and businesses throughout this country. All of this new demand gives companies a reason to expand and hire. This is a win-win-win for our economy.

Right-wing Republicans disagree. Backed by billions from the Koch brothers and other corporate interests, the Republican Party now believes that government should do virtually nothing to protect the interests of low-income and working people.

President Donald Trump sees raising the minimum wage as yet another promise he can make and break with impunity, while members of his party believe that any floor on wages -- at all -- is an unjust interference in the free market. If an employer in a high-unemployment area can hire someone for $4 an hour, that's just fine with them.

Despite a popular misconception, minimum-wage workers are not all high school kids. In fact, the average worker who would benefit from a $15-an-hour minimum wage is age 36. Today, the majority of low-wage workers are women, 23 million of whom would get a raise if we boosted wages to $15 per hour. Also, more than half of African-American and Hispanic workers earn less than $15 per hour.

Wages are low across industries critical to our country's long-term growth. According to a 2015 study by the National Employment Law Project, almost half of front-line automotive manufacturing jobs in America now pay less than $15 an hour. Moreover, more than 85 percent of child-care workers -- the people we have entrusted to provide the intellectual and emotional support for the future of our country -- make less than $15 an hour.

Instead of costing jobs, increasing the minimum wage boosts the economy by increasing consumer spending and reducing employee turnover. The truth is that cities and states that raised the minimum wage in 2014 experienced faster job growth than those that did not.

In terms of wage policy in America, the nation with more income and wealth inequality than any other major country, the bottom line is not complicated. In the year 2017, a job must lift workers out of poverty, not keep them in it. We must raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

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