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The cost of a $15 federal minimum wage

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Rebecca Rainey

Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would increase the pay of at least 17 million people, but also put 1.3 million Americans out of work, according to a study by the Congressional Budget Office released on Monday.

The increased federal minimum could also raise the wages of another 10 million workers and lift 1.3 million Americans out of poverty, according to the nonpartisan CBO. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 and last increased a decade ago.

The budget watchdog’s report comes ahead of next week’s vote in the House of Representatives on a bill to gradually raise the federal minimum to $15 an hour by 2024.

The CBO predicted much bigger job losses than House Democrats, who have pushed for the $15 minimum wage, expected. The study cited “considerable uncertainty” about the impact, because it’s hard to know exactly how employers would respond and to predict future wage growth.

The CBO wrote that in an average week in 2025, 1.3 million otherwise-employed workers would be jobless if the federal minimum wage went up to $15. That’s a median estimate. Overall, CBO economists wrote that resulting job losses would likely range between “about zero and 3.7 million.”

At the same time, the study says the $15 minimum wage would boost pay for 17 million people would otherwise be earning less than $15 an hour, and possibly for another 10 million Americans who would otherwise be earning slightly more than $15 per hour.

Considering a smaller increase to $12 an hour by 2025, the CBO estimated a boost for 5 million workers and a loss of 300,000 jobs. An increase to $10 an hour would give a raise to 1.5 million workers and would have “little effect on employment.”

The House, controlled by the Democrats, is expected next week to pass the Raise the Wage Act, which would lift the federal minimum wage to $15 gradually by 2024. Its author, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., on Monday argued that the benefits in CBO’s forecasts far outweighed the costs.

The measure faces a high hurdle in the Republican-controlled Senate. Even so, raising the federal minimum has been picking up steam over the years.

Already, 29 states, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands and Guam have set wage standards higher than the federal minimum. Seven states and the District of Columbia are on track to increase their wage minimums to $15 in coming years.

Many economists have agreed that modest increases to wage minimums don’t cause huge job losses. That theory was shown in a high-profile paper by David Card and Alan Krueger. The CBO wrote: “Many studies have found little or no effect of minimum wages on employment, but many others have found substantial reductions in employment.”

This article was first published at NPR.

This article was originally published at Politico on July 9, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.

Prior to joining POLITICO in August 2018, Rainey covered the Occupational Safety and Health administration and regulatory reform on Capitol Hill. Her work has been published by The Washington Post and the Associated Press, among other outlets.

Rainey holds a bachelor’s degree from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.

She was born and raised on the eastern shore of Maryland and grew up 30 minutes from the beach. She loves to camp, hike and be by the water whenever she can.


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A Nation Where Only The Rich Have Homes?

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In our daily lives, as anyone who keeps a household budget can attest, the unexpected happens all the time. A refrigerator motor fails. Some part on your car you never realized existed breaks down. A loved one passes away and you have to — you want to — be at the funeral a thousand miles away.

“Unexpected” expenses like these will, sooner or later, hit all of us. But all of us, says new research out of the Federal Reserve, can’t afford them.

In fact, just under 40 percent of Americans, says the Fed’s sixth annual household economics survey, “would have difficulty handling an emergency expense as small as $400.”

A fifth of American adults, the new Fed study adds, had major unexpected medical bills last year. An even larger share of Americans — one quarter — “skipped necessary medical care in 2018 because they were unable to afford the cost.”

Meanwhile, 17 percent of American adults can’t afford to pay all their monthly bills, even if they don’t experience an unexpected expense.

The new Fed report offers no anecdotal color, just waves of carefully collected statistical data. For a sense of what these stats mean in human terms, we need only look around where we live, particularly if we live in one of the many metro areas where inequality is squeezing millions of Americans who once considered themselves solidly “middle class.” Places like the Bay Area in California.

San Francisco, recent research shows, now has more billionaires per capita than any other city in the world. By one reckoning, San Francisco also has the highest cost of living in the world, as all those billionaires — and the rest of the city’s ultra rich — bid up prices on the most desirable local real estate.

But the Bay Area squeeze goes beyond the confines of San Francisco. Nearby Oakland and Berkeley are facing enormous affordable housing shortages as well. The Bay Area as a whole now has more than 30,000 homeless.

Two-thirds of these homeless Californians haven’t been able to find temporary sheltering services. They live and sleep outdoors, many in lines of RVs parked along public right-of-ways like the waterfront in Berkeley. And that has infuriated nearby residents who’ve paid big bucks for their residences.

Berkeley city council member Kate Harrison has felt the fury first-hand — from constituents who wanted the RVs of homeless people banned from the waterfront.

“I paid a million dollars for my place,” one constituent told her, “and they have a better view.”

Local officials in Bay Area cities don’t know quite what to do. On one side, they have people without shelter who have real and unmet human needs. On the other, they have angry affluents with shelter who see their neighborhoods under siege from homeless hordes.

The more people spend on housing, Berkeley councilperson Harrison has come to understand, the more “aggrieved” they feel.

“Only the one?percent here,” she adds, “feel economically secure.”

In other words, inequality has local officials coming and going. The ranks of the homeless are growing because almost all the gains from America’s growing economy, as the Economic Policy Institute’s Elise Gould testified to Congress this past March, are “going to households at the top.”

Empathy for the plight of the homeless, meanwhile, is withering away, particularly among society’s most fortunate, as the social distance between that top and the rest of society widens. The rich have climbed so far up the income ladder that they can’t see the humanity on the faces of people stuck on the lower rungs.

One telling sign of our unequal times: In wealthy Bay Area neighborhoods, the Washington Post reports, GoFundMe campaigns have emerged “to finance lawsuits against affordable housing proposals.”

What happens when empathy all but totally disappears? You get the life that the 33-year-old Ashana Cunningham lives in southwest Connecticut, the home to some of America’s grandest hedge-fund fortunes — as well as more separate and unequal housing, a devastating just-published analysis notes, “than nearly everywhere else in the country.”

Cunningham, the mother of three, lives in a homeless shelter amid abandoned factories and rundown houses. She takes a long bus commute every day to a high-priced day care center in one of Connecticut’s poshest areas. Cunningham couldn’t afford to live in that area even if she made triple her $12.50 per hour salary because, as joint reporting by Pro Publica and the Connecticut Mirror details, Connecticut’s wealthiest communities have been blocking construction of any modestly priced housing “within their borders for the last two decades, often through exclusionary zoning requirements.”

Towns like Westport — median home value: $1.15 million — have surrounded themselves “with invisible walls to block affordable housing and, by extension, the people who need it.”

One local developer five years ago proposed a project for Westport that would accommodate up to 12 families via a mix of single- and multifamily housing units on a 2.2-acre property he had purchased. The density, the developer explain, would allow the units to sell “for less than the typical Westport home.”

The Westport Planning and Zoning Commission denied his plan.

“To me,” declared one commissioner who voted against the plan, “this is ghettoizing Westport.”

In reality, the wealthy in localities like Westport have effectively “ghettoized” their corner of Connecticut, locking in place an extreme inequality that’s doing deep damage to the young people who grow up within it. So suggests a study that appeared last month in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The researchers involved in the study examined data from nearly 30,000 schools and found “the first evidence of an association between early-life inequality and adolescent bullying.”

“Put another way,” explains an analysis of the study from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, “there is a link between early life inequality and being bullied at school later in life.”

The new study’s lead author, Frank Elgar of Montreal’s McGill University, emphasizes that the link his team’s researchers found rests between inequality and bullying, not poverty and bullying. The “effect of growing up in an unequal setting,” Elgar points out, may well be significantly — and negatively — altering the course of children’s development.

Just how does inequality have this impact? The researchers say we need more research. How about they start that probing in southwest Connecticut.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on June 10, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: A veteran labor journalist, Sam Pizzigati has written widely on economic inequality, in articles, books, and online, for both popular and scholarly readers.


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Bernie Sanders brings the fight for a $15 minimum wage to Walmart’s shareholders meeting

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) brought his battle for a $15 minimum wage and workers’ rights to Walmart’s annual shareholders meeting in Arkansas on Wednesday.

The Walton family controls just over 50% of the company’s stock. They are the richest family in the United States. Sanders has called out the Walton’s refusal to raise wages for its workers, asserting that it is “outrageous that the Walton family makes more in one minute than a Walmart worker earns in a year.”

At the invitation of Cat Davis, a longtime Walmart employee, Sanders went to the meeting to issue his demands in person: raise hourly wages from $11 to $15, put an employee representative on the company board, grant part-time workers the opportunity to work full-time, and stop obstructing workers’ efforts to unionize.

He addressed an enthusiastic crowd following the meeting. His audience booed when Sanders announced the current starting wages at Walmart and at the astonishing wealth of the Walton family.

“You have a company here that is owned by the Walton family … worth about $175 billion,” Sanders said. “One might think that a family worth $175 billion would be able to pay its employees a living wage. And yet, as you all know, the starting wage at Walmart now is $11 an hour. And people cannot make it on $11 an hour. You can’t pay rent. You can’t get health care. You can’t feed your kids or put gas in the car on $11 an hour. What we are also saying: It is a little bit absurd that many, many Walmart employees are forced to go on government programs like Medicaid or food stamps or public housing subsidized by the taxpayers of this country.”

In an interview with CNN, Sanders explained why he believes it is so crucial that workers be represented on the company’s board. “At the end of the day, working people have got to have some control over how they spend at least eight hours a day,” Sanders said. “They cannot simply be cogs in a machine. To be a human being means that you have some ability to control your life. And that includes your work life.”

If Walmart raises its starting wage to $15, it would be joining the likes of Amazon and Disneyland, both of which faced criticism from Sanders for paying workers poorly and, last year, started paying their workers $15 an hour. (Disneyworld employees will see that raise in 2021.)

Last November, Sanders and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) introduced the Stop Walmart Act, “a campaign to raise wages at Walmart and other large, profitable corporations that pay poverty-level wages.” Under their legislation, large employers would be forbidden from buying back stock unless they paid all employees, including part-time workers and contractors, at least $15 an hour; allowed workers to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave; and made sure that the compensation of the highest-paid employee — probably, though not always, the CEO — was no more than 150 times the median pay of all employees.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 5, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jessica M. Goldstein is a reporter for ThinkProgress covering culture and politics.


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2020 hopefuls are joining striking fast food workers Thursday — but who’s helping whom?

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McDonald’s workers are striking Thursday in a dozen cities across the country.

The latest walkouts in the nearly six-year-old campaign for union rights and sustainable wages, timed to overlap with the fast food giant’s annual shareholder meeting in Dallas, will also feature a number of 2020 White House hopefuls.

Former congressman and Housing and Urban Development head Julián Castro (D-TX) will join striking workers in Durham, North Carolina, alongside Moral Mondays leader Rev. William Barber II. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will video conference in to the Dallas worker rally and take questions from the crowd.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) will attend walkouts in Chicago and Des Moines, Iowa, respectively. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) had previously planned to attend the Des Moines rally but had to switch things up after a Senate vote on federal disaster relief was scheduled for Thursday at the last minute.

The presidential contenders will likely create an additional media draw in those four cities. But the workers themselves will be their own headliner in nine others, including Miami, Orlando, and Tampa, as well as Milwaukee.

These White House hopefuls are arguably more in need of being seen with these workers than the low-wage toilers require these politicos’ imprimatur. Since 2013, when the first impromptu walkout in New York broke open an organizing terrain that traditional labor organizers had long regarded as impossible, the Fight for $15 has been a persistent and mounting force in U.S. politics.

And as those strikes spread nationwide, to dozens and eventually hundreds of cities and towns across the United States, the energy present among the fast food and retail workers also broke through longstanding roadblocks on minimum wage laws.

Prior to Fight For $15 bringing new electricity to the scene, statutory pay floors had stagnated and fallen far behind inflation for decades around the country. In the spring of 2014, minimum wage advocates in Seattle, aided by the combined pressure of workers in the streets working from the outside and newly elected socialist firebrand Kshama Sawant making the case from her city council perch, finally reached a breakthrough. Seattle became the first municipality to set its pay floor at $15 an hour in the United States.

Numerous cities and states have followed suit since. And the $15 minimum wage question haunted the 2016 presidential election. During that season’s Democratic primary, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s initial insistence that $12-per-hour was better policy eventually gave way to her embrace of the $15 demand.

If anyone still wanted to dispute the worker-led movement’s political gravity after that dramatic moment in the 2016 primary season, a little-noticed development this spring should have put such skepticism to bed for good. McDonald’s itself dropped its opposition to the campaign’s demands and withdrew its support for the National Restaurant Association’s long-running lobbying campaign against wage hikes and workers’ rights for the fast food industry.

The acquiescence of the industry’s leading burger chain has by no means ended the firm’s manifold conflicts with workers. McDonald’s workers have continued to file sexual harassment suits against the corporation, aided in recent months by the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union — as well as by 2020 hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who blasted out a profile of their efforts to her massive social media following Tuesday.

The chain’s workers have also brought attention to the violence employees routinely face from customers along with, they contend, the dismissive, not-my-problem response they frequently get from management when they attempt to raise their concerns internally.

It is telling that White House hopefuls from all tiers of the primary — heavy hitters and long shots alike — are looking to associate themselves directly with the workers who are bearing the risks and costs of a union drive their employers oppose. The continued success of this largely grassroots movement will likely continue to command influence over the Democratic primary long after Thursday’s rallies and walkouts.

Labor energy has traditionally fueled the retail politicking of Democrats, of course. When former Vice President Joe Biden (D) joined a Stop & Shop workers’ rally during their recent and ultimately successful 11-day strike, the political media barely batted an eye. This is just what’s expected of those who would bear the party’s banner.

But there are signs that the relationship between elected Democrats and rank-and-file labor is shifting. Sanders’ campaign recently harnessed its digital subscriber list in the service of encouraging supporters to show up for workers at picket lines and rallies. As ThinkProgress previously detailed, his presidential campaign will be the first run by a unionized staff.

Lower-profile unionization drives in other industries have drawn mass attention from the energetic online left and, in turn, from Democratic politicians working to figure out how to wed that vocal cohort to the party’s traditionally moderate wing. And the AFL-CIO, long one of the most significant power brokers outside the party’s official infrastructure, is embroiled in internal disputes about how it apportions resources between organizing workers and influencing elections. It remains to be seen how that turmoil will affect the party’s own ability to rely on the AFL to turn out members at campaign events and on polling days, and broker connections between office-seekers and working stiffs.

The Fight for $15 folks, meanwhile, have remained a mainstay in the broad panoply of labor activists since their first-ever national convention in Richmond, Virginia, three years ago. The emotion and excitement that has long attended the campaign’s activism — coupled with the moral and rhetorical leadership of Rev. Barber and his fellow clergymen — make the movement an attractive force with which to form an allegiance. With several Democratic primary hopefuls beating an early path to their picket lines, it seems likely many more will show up in the months to come.

This article was originally published at Think Progress on May 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Alan Pyke  covers poverty and the social safety net. Alan is also a film and music critic for fun. Send him tips at: [email protected] or


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Power Connection: Connecticut AFL-CIO Empowers Fight for $15

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In a monumental leap of economic justice last week, the Connecticut Legislature passed a law that increases the state minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2023. The increase brings Connecticut into parity with its neighboring states of New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey, which have passed similar increases. The victory comes as a result of unprecedented coordination among labor unions and allied advocates in the state that have been fighting for an increase for years.

“After years of grassroots organizing, Connecticut will finally catch up to our neighbors,” said Connecticut AFL-CIO President Sal Luciano. “We applaud the legislature for doing the right thing and raising wages for over 330,000 workers in our state.”

The victory was aided by a number of union members who have been elected to the state’s General Assembly. Of critical importance to the bill’s passage were the co-chairs of the assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee, state Sen. Julie Kushner, former director of UAW Region 9A, and state Rep. Robyn Porter, who was once a single mother who worked three jobs to make ends meet.

The state legislature also has a paid family and medical leave bill that is tentatively scheduled for a vote the week of May 20. “All these combined are going to make a huge difference in people’s lives,” Kushner said.

The significance of the measure is not lost on those who will immediately benefit from the increase. “When fast-food workers walked off the job nearly seven years ago demanding $15 and a union, nobody thought we had a chance,” said Joseph Franklin, a leader in the Fight for $15 coalition and a McDonald’s worker in Hartford. “Our movement is gaining momentum.”

The Connecticut AFL-CIO has been diligently working to elect union members and allies to office, and this victory shows that the path to power flows directly through the labor movement.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on May 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michael Gillis is a writer at AFL-CIO.

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Veteran Organizer Gives Inside Look at the First $15 Minimum Wage Campaign

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Back in 2011, as the Occupy Wall Street movement was still spreading through the country, a smaller standoff was unfolding at Sea-Tac, the international airport in the small, eponymous town between Seattle and Tacoma that serves both cities. Along with some of her coworkers, Zainab Aweis, a Somali Muslim shuttle driver for Hertz car rental, was on her way to take a break for prayer, when her manager stepped in front of the doorway.

“If you guys pray, you go home,” the manager said.

As devout Muslims, Aweis and her fellow staff were dedicated to praying five times a day. Because it only takes a few minutes, their employer had previously treated the prayers like smoke breaks—nothing to worry about. Suddenly, the workers were forced to choose between their faith and their jobs.

“I like the job,” Aweis thought, “but if I can’t pray, I don’t see the benefit.”

As she and others continued to pray, managers started suspending each Muslim worker who prayed on the clock, totaling 34.

The ensuing battle marked a flashpoint in what would eventually be the first successful $15 minimum wage campaign in the country. The story of these Hertz workers, and the many others who came together to improve their working conditions, is recounted in Beyond $15: Immigrant Workers, Faith Activists, and the Revival of the Labor Movement, a new book by Jonathan Rosenblum, a leading organizer of the campaign.

As the labor movement finds itself in a state of crisis, Beyond $15 is both a timely history of a bold campaign’s unlikely victory and an inspiring call for a flexible, progressive and power-building vision of labor organizing.

The decades-long decline of union power and the recent rise of anti-union legislation have made organizing workers in even the best of conditions an uphill battle. At Sea-Tac, one might have thought it impossible. While organizing even a single workplace is a challenge, Rosenblum and others were hoping to organize many. Decades of restructuring and union busting in the airline industry meant that many low-wage workers at Sea-Tac worked for various contractors rather than the airlines themselves. Though many of the employees worked alongside each other and shared grievances, they did not necessarily have the same boss.

Worse than that, Sea-Tac airport workers weren’t guaranteed most federal rights to union activity because those rights do not fully cover contractors or transportation workers. Due to an antiquated law called the Railway Labor Act (RLA), airport workers are all but prohibited from striking and so-called disruptive activity in the workplace. And, if all of that wasn’t bad enough, many of the workers wanted nothing to do with a union. Some had already had bad experiences with unions and did not trust them, while others were refugees who wanted no part in anything that might attract the government’s attention.

That Rosenblum and his colleagues were able to achieve victory under such circumstances, alone, makes Beyond $15 an instructive read. The book’s detailed portraits of organizers, workers and their actions are a testament to bold and creative maneuvers, which were executed so well that they made a seemingly invincible corporation feel threatened by a united front of cabin cleaners and shuttle drivers. Rosenblum’s coalition of faith leaders and a team of worker organizers, closely tied to the community, led picket drives on luggage carts, co-opted shareholder meetings with defiant prayers and songs, made a successful bid to demand union recognition and launched a citywide ballot initiative that narrowly beat its concerted conservative opposition (and I mean narrowly–the initiative passed by 77 votes, a 1 percent margin).

But more than just a collection of war stories, Rosenblum’s purpose in Beyond $15 is to persuade other advocates to follow his lead. The book uses Sea-Tac’s success to argue for a “social movement union” approach to organizing that grounds labor advocacy in moral terms, challenges the existing economic and political order and broadens the definition of union organizing to include a wide swath of community groups and faith leaders rather than union members alone.

“Today’s expectation among most union leaders …. is that the organization providing the most dollars and staff get to call the shots,” Rosenblum writes. “But community allies bring other assets, like relationships, credibility, or cultural competence, which can’t be measured monetarily but are just as vital.”

To be sure, Rosenblum’s vision for labor organizing is not exactly new. Many progressive union leaders, particularly younger ones, would find his recommended principles obvious. Even the most powerful and ostensibly hierarchical union leaders would likely agree with many of his points. And while this kind of progressive vision is important, there are practical conundrums that cannot be resolved by Rosenblum’s call to “aim higher, reach wider, build deeper”—namely, a history of industrial segmentation, automation and the large number of workers in sectors where traditional models of union organizing simply aren’t feasible. Even when union heads fully prioritize grassroots organizing, coalition building and collaborating with faith leaders, as AFL-CIO head John Sweeney did in the 1990s, this strategy is not a panacea.

With Republican control of every branch of government, the rising popularity of “right-to-work” legislation and the increasing number of preemption bills that allow conservative states to nullify laws like the one passed at Sea-Tac, these challenges are only multiplying. It’s with that in mind that Beyond $15 may be exactly the inspirational fodder that organizers need. There may not be an easy fix for the tensions between grassroots organizing and newer forms of worker advocacy, but Rosenblum can attest that the problem need not be resolved to plod ahead. As he shows in his book, progressive organizing and coalition building can work alongside ballot initiatives and big unions, and victories can still be won—now.

 This article was originally published at Inthesetimes.com on June 2, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 
About the Author: Jonathan Timm is a freelance reporter who specializes in labor and gender issues. Follow him on Twitter @jdrtimm.

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