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The PHASE-in $15 Act Would Lock in Low Wages for Millions of Workers

Working people in every region of this country deserve a decent wage and the The PHASE-in $15 Act will not accomplish that

Demonstrators rally in support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. (Photo: United Healthcare Workers East–Maryland/DC Division)

Demonstrators rally in support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. (Photo: United Healthcare Workers East–Maryland/DC Division) 

The Paying Hourly Americans Stronger Earnings (PHASE)-in $15 Wage Act, which would establish regional minimum wages throughout the country, would do little more than lock in low wages for millions of workers in parts of the country where large national employers pay as little as they can get away with.

Twenty-one percent of low-wage workers live in an area that would see a minimum wage of $11.50 in 2024 under this proposal—equivalent to around $10.00 in today’s dollars. And another 22 percent of low-wage workers live in an area where the minimum wage would increase to only $12.10 in 2024—or around $10.50 in today’s dollars. That means a total of 43 percent of low-wage workers live in areas that, under this proposal, would have a minimum wage of $10.50 or less in today’s dollars.

There is nowhere in the country where $10.00 or $10.50 an hour is enough for anyone, even a single individual without children, to afford a secure standard of living. Proposing such a low minimum wage for any region is an insult to the workers in this country who are simply trying to provide for themselves and their families. Setting regional differences with wages this depressed as federal policy isn’t a way to raise wages in lower cost-of-living areas—it simply ensures wages for workers struggling in those areas will remain shamefully low.

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Importantly, of the 17 metro areas that would see their minimum wages increased to $15 an hour under the PHASE-in $15 Act, all but two are in states or cities that have already passed their own $15 minimum wages—and both of those two are in states where the state legislature is currently considering a $15 minimum wage. In other words, the only tangible impact of this proposal would be to set minimum wages less than $15 throughout every part of the country that hasn’t already passed a $15 minimum wage, or isn’t actively considering it.

The Raise the Wage Act would provide a floor of $15 in 2024—a reasonable floor for even the lowest cost-of-living regions in this country. Indeed, even a minimum wage of $15 an hour in 2024—roughly $13 in today’s dollars, or around $27,000 a year for a full-time, full-year worker—is hardly enough for a working person to get by. At the same time, this national floor allows higher cost-of-living regions to set their minimum wages higher, which many have already done.

Working people in every region of this country deserve a decent wage. It has been over a decade since Congress acted to raise our nation’s minimum wage. It is time for Congress to pass the Raise the Wage Act and lift the wages of nearly 40 million workers.

Heidi Shierholz

Heidi Shierholz

Heidi Shierholz leads the Economic Policy Institutes’ Perkins Project on Worker Rights and Wages, a policy response team that tracks the Trump administration’s wage and employment policies. She also heads EPI’s efforts to advance a worker-centered policy agenda.

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