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Quantifying the Impact of the Fight for $15: $150 Billion in Raises for 26 Million Workers, with $76 Billion Going to Workers of Color

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Introduction

In late November 2012, a small group of fast-food workers in New York City walked out of their jobs in response to low wages[1] and the challenges of organizing a union in a high-turnover and high-exploitation industry.[2] These workers—many of them Black and brown—would launch one of the most successful worker movements of the 21st century, as their demands echoed across the country, spreading the call for a $15 minimum wage and a union.

The Fight for $15, as the movement inspired by these walkouts would be called, sparked waves of action to raise the minimum wage in the ensuing years, leading dozens of states, cities, and counties to raise their wages; putting pressure on some of the world’s largest corporations to raise their pay scales; and informing the national conversation on living wages, workplace democracy, and equity.

This report quantifies the wage impact of the Fight for $15. Using U.S. Census data, we estimate that 26 million workers have been boosted by higher minimum wage policies passed by all levels of government since 2012—winning over $150 billion in additional annual income.[i] We also find that the Fight for $15 has helped raise the earnings of nearly 12 million workers of color and 18 million women—likely helping narrow the racial and gender wage gaps (though a wage gap analysis is beyond the scope of this report).

Crucially, this worker-led movement delivered these additional earnings despite the racist, sexist, and anti-worker system of laws and political climate in the United States—with laws in place around the country that permit forced arbitration,[3] wage preemption,[4] misclassification,[5] wage theft,[6] and ongoing attacks on the few parts of our system that actually aid working people.[7]

THE ECONOMIC CONTEXT

Since the end of the Great Depression, U.S. productivity has grown rapidly—an indication that workers are producing more goods and services and creating more wealth. Yet, worker pay has barely budged, while CEO pay has soared. In the four decades between 1978 and 2018, inflation-adjusted CEO compensation (base salary and realized stock options) grew by 940 percent, while median worker pay grew just 12 percent.[8] According to an analysis commissioned by the New York Times, in 2020 alone CEO pay grew by 14 percent, while median worker pay grew by less than 2 percent.[9]

Between 1948 and 1973, real hourly wages increased in proportion to the overall growth in productivity. As the U.S. economy grew, the gains were shared with workers on a roughly proportional basis.  However, since 1973, wages for the most underpaid workers have not kept pace with growth of our economy and total labor productivity.[10] In essence, corporations have not equitably shared the returns of our formidable growth in national productivity with the underpaid workers who made those gains possible.

By 2017, productivity was growing more than twice as fast as the growth in real median wages.[11] Many economists have interpreted this trend as an example of the diminishing power of workers relative to employers.[12] Increased globalization and the declining power of unions have contributed to the loss of bargaining power. But another factor is the declining value of the federal minimum wage, which places a floor on wages in the labor market.

The federal minimum wage was last raised to $7.25 per hour in 2009. In 2021, it remains at that level.

The federal minimum wage was last raised to $7.25 per hour in 2009. In 2021, it remains at that level, making this twelve-year period the longest in which the federal minimum wage has remained unchanged since the U.S. first enacted a federal minimum wage in 1938. The real value of the federal minimum wage is now only 59 percent of its peak value in 1968.[13]

Thirty states and Washington, D.C. have minimum wage levels that currently exceed $7.25 per hour—however, twenty other states follow the federal rate or do not have a state minimum wage at all. Of the states with minimum wages higher than the federal minimum, eleven states[ii] and Washington D.C. have legislated additional increases to $15 over the next few years.

The Fight for $15 has highlighted the disconnect between state and U.S. legislators who refuse to raise wages—most of whom represent states with $7.25 minimum wages—and their constituents, many of whom support a $15 minimum wage. As worker-activists in states stuck at $7.25 have made clear, zip codes should not determine whether workers are able to earn a baseline living wage.

Main Findings

In this report, we find:

  • General Impact: From 2012 to January 2021, an estimated 26 million workers have won over $150 billion[iii] in additional income through a combination of state and local minimum wage increases[iv] and an executive order for federal contractors. The affected workers comprise nearly 16 percent of the U.S. labor force. To put the $150 billion in perspective, this figure is more than 94 times the impact ($1.6 billion) of the last federal minimum wage increase to $7.25, which took effect in 2009.[14]
  • Impact on Workers of Color: Of the 26 million workers, nearly 12 million (46 percent) are Black, Latinx, or Asian American. Their additional annual income totals $76 billion—approximately 50 percent of the total for all workers.
  • Impact on Women: Women comprise approximately 13 million (50 percent) of all impacted workers. Their share of the additional annual earnings is nearly $70 billion—46 percent of the total.
  • Impact of $15 Minimum Wage Laws: Of the $150 billion in additional income for affected workers, the overwhelming share (73 percent, or nearly $111 billion) is the result of minimum wage increases in states and localities that are either on a path to $15 or have already reached a $15 or higher minimum wage. Workers affected by these laws make up 69 percent of the total.

WORKERS OF COLOR HAVE SEEN STRONG GAINS FROM FIGHT FOR $15 MINIMUM WAGE WINS

Workers of color and their economic and political demands played a significant role in shaping the movement for higher wages. [xvi] These workers have been among the most impacted by the Fight for $15, as our analysis shows.

Higher wages benefit all workers, but they can have a greater impact in communities that have been historically underpaid due to structural racism, sexism, and the enduring occupational segregation that pushes workers of color into the most underpaid jobs in the economy. This means that changes to minimum wage policies can have a profound effect in reducing racial inequity, as the workers of color leading the Fight for $15 and a union have emphasized.

A recent study by University of California economists estimates that minimum wage increases from 1990 to 2019 reduced the Black-white wage gap by 12 percent.[xvii] A separate study estimates that the 1966 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act—which expanded minimum wage protections to previously excluded occupations in which workers of color were overrepresented—explains more than 20 percent of the reduction in the racial earnings and income gaps between 1967 and 1980.[xviii]

In addition to narrowing the racial wage, earnings and income gaps, higher minimum wages can also substantially increase the earnings of workers of color. Table 2, above, shows that workers of color represent 46 percent of all workers impacted by minimum wage increases between 2012 and 2021. Of the more than $150 billion in annual additional income resulting from Fight for $15-influenced minimum wage increases, the share going to workers of color was nearly $76 billion (50 percent).

Tables 5 and 6 provide further details of the impact of the Fight for $15 for workers of color. They show that state minimum wage increases boosted the earnings of Black workers by $5,100 annually on average; and that local minimum wage increases raised their earnings by $7,300. The incomes of Latinx and Asian American workers rose faster: State-level minimum wage policies boosted their annual earnings by $6,300; and local increases raised their annual earnings by $8,300 and $8,200, respectively. By comparison, state and local minimum wage increases raised the earnings of white workers by $4,900 and $7,200, respectively—below the averages for workers of color and for all workers.

Black and brown worker-leaders in the Fight for $15 have not only advocated for higher wages, but have also pointed to worker power and workplace democracy as essential to increasing racial equity. These workers are now fighting to strengthen other workplace protections, such as just-cause job protections, union recognition, stronger health and safety standards, and wage theft protections.

THE FIGHT FOR $15 HAS BOOSTED WOMEN’S EARNINGS BY $70 BILLION

Since the 1970s, women’s educational attainment has increased substantially[xix], which typically correlates to higher earnings. Yet, women continue to earn less than men,[xx] and continue to be overrepresented among the underpaid workforce.

According to a 2018 analysis by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), women comprise nearly two-thirds of workers earning at or under $11.50 per hour.[xxi] In a separate analysis, NWLC finds that women make up 60 percent or more of the workforce in four of the five fastest-growing occupations. Of these, three occupations—personal care aides, home health aides, and combined food preparation and serving workers (including fast food)—pay low wages.[xxii] Women’s overrepresentation in underpaid occupations is one of the factors that drive the gender wage gap. Yet, research shows that higher minimum wages can help narrow this gap.[xxiii]

Of the more than $150 billion in annual additional income resulting from Fight for $15-influenced minimum wage increases, the share going to women was nearly $70 billion (46 percent).

The tables below provide further details of the impact of the Fight for $15 on women. Table 7 shows that state minimum wage increases boosted the annual earnings of affected female workers by $5,100 per worker on average, and by over $58 billion in the aggregate. Table 8—which reflects the impact of minimum wage increases in nine cities and counties for which we have data—shows that local minimum wage increases raised women’s earnings by $7,400 per worker, and by more than $11 billion in the aggregate. (More detailed figures can be found in Appendix Tables E-1 to F-2).Table 3, above, shows that women represent 50 percent of all workers impacted by minimum wage increases between 2012 and 2021. Of the more than $150 billion in annual additional income resulting from Fight for $15-influenced minimum wage increases, the share going to women was nearly $70 billion (46 percent). (The slightly lower income gains for women, compared with men, are likely the result of women’s overrepresentation among part-time workers[xxiv]—a reflection of gender roles that are slow to change, which have been shown to impact women’s career decisions).[xxv]

The benefit of higher wages for women and their dependents cannot be understated. With existing conditions and a government and corporate response rooted in systemic racism and sexism, the COVID-19 pandemic harmed women—particularly women of color—more than men. In the first ten months of the pandemic, women lost 1 million more jobs than men, and in the month of December 2020, alone, all of the job losses were borne by women of color.[xxvi] According to research by the National Women’s Law Center and the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, women are more likely than men to experience poverty during their working years, particularly, if they are raising children as single mothers.[xxvii] Children raised by single mothers are also more likely (33 percent) to experience poverty than children raised by single fathers (21 percent).[xxviii] Higher incomes resulting from minimum wage increases are likely to have some mitigating impact on poverty for women and families.[xxix]

MOST OF THE GAINS STEM FROM STATE AND LOCAL MINIMUM WAGE INCREASES TO $15 OR MORE

Since 2012, eleven states[6] and 45 localities have adopted laws that put them on a path to $15. As Table 4, above, shows, these laws account for the bulk of the impacts on workers: 18 million workers (69 percent of the total) and nearly $111 billion in additional income (73 percent of total). Appendix Tables G and H list state and local jurisdictions on a path to $15.

Although state-level $15 minimum wage laws have had the most impact—accounting for 56 percent of all worker impacts, and 55 percent of all income increases—local jurisdictions have led the way in raising wages to $15 or more. The Fight for $15 was initially a local effort—a fast-food worker strike in New York City. However, it quickly spread, winning the first of many victories in SeaTac, Washington in 2013, followed by Seattle and San Francisco in 2014.

From there, the movement was able to scale up to states, with California and New York adopting gradual increases to $15 in 2015, around the same time as additional local jurisdictions were considering their own $15 minimum wage laws. The leadership of cities and counties in raising wages—pushed by local workers and communities—has been one of the main forces behind state action for higher wages to $15;[xxx] and now they are leading the way for even higher wages beyond $15.

Conclusion

Since 2012, the Fight for $15—a worker- and people of color-led movement—has achieved what our elected representatives in Washington, D.C. could not: Raise wages in dozens of states, cities, and counties, winning $150 billion in raises for 26 million workers. The impact of these raises is 94 times that of the last federal minimum wage increase, which took effect in 2009. These are real, material gains for millions of people—affecting workers’ ability to buy groceries, pay rent, attend school, and care for their families.

Despite this incredible achievement, the need for higher wages remains. Twenty states follow the federal minimum wage of $7.25 or do not have a minimum wage law of their own.[xxxi] Many of these states are located in the South, where a majority of African Americans live and work.[xxxii] These 20 states have not only failed to raise wages, but most also prohibit cities and counties within their borders from adopting their own minimum wage laws.[xxxiii]

It is crucial that the U.S. Congress finally pass a federal baseline wage of $15 an hour or higher, with One Fair Wage for tipped workers, young workers, and workers with disabilities.

That is why it is so crucial for the U.S. Congress to finally pass a federal baseline wage of $15 an hour or higher, with One Fair Wage for tipped workers, young workers, and workers with disabilities. With the Raise the Wage Act, Congress has an opportunity to raise the federal minimum wage to $15.00 over five years,[xxxiv] a proposal that enjoys wide support from voters.[xxxv] Without congressional action, underpaid workers in states that follow the federal minimum wage will continue to be guaranteed only a poverty wage of $7.25. These workers, who are disproportionately workers of color, will fall further and further behind other workers around the country.

The success of the movement for higher wages—demonstrated so clearly by the impact numbers highlighted in this report—only reaffirms how far out of step lawmakers in Congress are from their constituents, as they continue to refuse to raise the federal minimum wage. But just as the Fight for $15 and a union movement has won raises in cities, counties, and states nationwide, it is only a matter of time before workers win a $15 minimum wage on the federal level, and other labor protections at all levels of government—including just cause, union rights, and even wages above $15, which are increasingly necessary around the country.

Crucially, all of these policies are also essential to increasing racial equity. Structural anti-Black racism is at the core of why workers are so underpaid nationwide.[xxxvi] Illustrative of anti-Black racism are the segregation of the labor market that pushes many workers of color into underpaid jobs;[xxxvii] the original exclusion of whole categories of workers from minimum wage protections in the Fair Labor Standards Act;[xxxviii] and voting discrimination[xxxix] and wage preemption laws[xl] that prevent Black workers in these states from having a fair say in the policies that determine their lives.

Congressional lawmakers can either put their weight behind the worker activism and the racial and gender justice imperative of raising wages now, or they can bury their heads further into the sand, as workers win in spite of them.

Methodology

Our methodological approach follows one originally created by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley,[xli] who first forecasted the impact of the proposed $15-per-hour Los Angeles citywide minimum wage.[xlii]

This approach relies upon estimating what would have happened to wages if no minimum wage increases were ever passed. Specifically, we estimate the wage distribution in each state and selected localities for each year from 2012—when the Fight for $15 began—up to 2021 to establish a baseline scenario. This is referred to as a “counterfactual” wage distribution. To do this, we reconstructed what the minimum wage was in each state in 2011 and assume that minimum wages were kept at this level (i.e., without the Fight for $15-influenced minimum wage increases). The starting point for the counterfactual wage projection was the observed total wage income from the 2011 American Community Survey (ACS) public use microdata.  Reported wages were then inflated by the average rate of inflation as measured by the CPI-U in the period from 2012 to 2020.

To capture the impacts of Fight for $15-influenced minimum wage increases, we constructed the actual minimum wage stepped increases by states and localities. We define an affected worker as an individual respondent with a projected baseline wage below the mandated minimum wage in 2021. Since the ACS does not report wage income on an hourly basis, we estimate the hourly wage for each worker by dividing total annual wage income by the product of usual hours worked per week and number of weeks worked per year.

To determine the number of affected workers, we first calculated the hourly wage for each employed respondent in the baseline scenario (as described above). Then we estimate the total number of employed workers with baseline wages below the mandated minimum wage in 2021 by state and locality. To calculate the income increases for workers, we first calculate the earnings difference per hour between the baseline wage and the mandated minimum wage for affected workers. Then, we convert the hourly earnings difference to a 2021 annual figure by multiplying the difference by the usual hours worked per week and the usual weeks worked per year (from the ACS).  The 2021 figures for workers affected and income increases for workers were adjusted based on the total population change in states and localities to reflect change in the population bases that have been impacted by Fight for $15-influenced minimum wage increases.

Cities and counties included as local areas in this analysis were determined by data availability in the 2011 ACS public use microdata sample (PUMS). The 1-Year ACS sample does identify smaller cities and/or larger cities in cases where disclosure rules would be violated. (The U.S. Census maintains disclosure controls to protect the privacy of survey respondents).[xliii] Therefore, in order to comply with disclosure rules, our analysis using the methods described above were only applicable to nine local areas. To estimate the number of workers affected in the other 43 local jurisdictions we used a quasi-elasticity for the share of total population affected relative to the average minimum wage increase between 2012 and 2021 for the nine (larger) cities available in the ACS. For example, across the nine cities available in the ACS, the average share of the 2011 population affected was 17 percent, while the average change in minimum wage was 80.5 percent. We then applied this ratio for the remaining cities using their actual percent change in minimum wage and 2011 population based on either the 3-year (2010-2012) or 5-year (2009-2013) ACS summary data. To calculate the estimate annual increase, we applied the average increase per-worker in the observed sample of nine cities ($7,816) to the estimate number of workers calculated for each city. We refer to the estimate from the set of cities that lack identification in the 1-year ACS PUMS sample as “imputed” figures and are intended to be approximations. The figures presented in this report are rounded.

Race and ethnicity categories are constructed using the ACS’s classifications for race and ethnicity. For this analysis, white represents individuals that identified as white alone (non-Hispanic or Latino), Black represents Black or African-American alone (non-Hispanic or Latino), Asian represents Asian alone (non-Hispanic or Latino), and Latinx represents Hispanic or Latino of any race. Because of the possibility of inflating possible errors, we do not report breakouts by race/ethnicity and gender for the set of cities where imputations were used for estimating the total number of workers affected.

A Note on Disemployment Effects                                 

Scholarly debates on the empirical and theoretical impact of raising the minimum wage on job losses have been raging for decades. For the purposes of the analysis presented here, we do not separately account for the so-called disemployment effect of raising the minimum wage. Historically, older studies found a consensus that raising the minimum wage had a negative impact on employment levels (a negative elasticity between 10 and 20 percent). However, more recent empirical research , using a more geographically detailed methodology, has shown convincingly that minimum wage increases do not lead to significant disemployment effects.[xliv]  This finding has held up to numerous replications and methodological changes and newer studies have confirmed the overall finding of no significant job losses.[xlv]

While these large-scale national studies of minimum wage impacts, which pool together many modest (ranging from 10 percent to 50 percent) state-level increases in minimum wage over a long time period, have consistently found employment effects close to zero, it is still possible that very large and rapid increases in the minimum wage would cause negative effects. However, the experience of Seattle, which was the first major city to raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour, shows evidence that largely confirms the finding of no significant employment losses.

This report originally appeared at NELP on July 27, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Yannet Lathrop is a passionate advocate for economic and social policies that advance the common good. She joined NELP in 2014, after completing a public policy fellowship under the sponsorship of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.


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‘The president’s committed to raising the minimum wage,’ Labor Sec. Marty Walsh says. He should be

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The Senate voted against including a minimum wage increase in the American Rescue Plan in March, and as long as Republicans have the option of filibustering it, they will block any meaningful increase in what’s now a poverty-level federal minimum wage. But because $7.25 an hour is a poverty-level wage—and because raising it is proven popular with voters—Democrats need to find a way to make it happen, and happen in a form that isn’t an insult to the workers such a policy should be helping.

“When you think about raising the minimum wage, it’s really about raising the opportunity for families to earn a living,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh told MSNBC’s Ali Velshi on Saturday. “Most families can’t live on $7 an hour—no family can live on $7 an hour. It’s pretty hard to live on $15 an hour.”

“The president’s committed to raising the minimum wage,” Walsh continued. “I’m committed to raising the minimum wage, there are members of Congress committed to raising the minimum wage.”

What a minimum wage increase looks like is the big question. The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 would raise it in steps, going from $7.25 to $9.50 later in 2021, then $11 in 2022, $12.50 in 2023, $14 in 2024, and $15 in 2025. After that, the minimum wage would be indexed to median wage growth, so that we wouldn’t again have a minimum wage that hadn’t changed in more than a decade thanks to Republican obstruction. Importantly, the Raise the Wage Act would also raise the tipped subminimum wage from $2.13 an hour, where it has been since 1991, bringing it equal with the full minimum wage in 2027; the much less frequently used youth wage would also match the minimum wage in 2027.

One alternative you’ll hear mentioned a lot is a regional minimum wage, with lower-cost states having a lower minimum wage than higher-cost ones. There are a lot of problems with this. First of all, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, the only state in the country in which a living wage for one adult with no children is currently below $13 an hour is South Dakota. $15 an hour in 2025 is likely to be the equivalent of $13.79 in today’s dollars. So when people tell you that $15 in 2025 is too much, too fast … they’re sure not talking about what’s fair or right.

Second, consider how many states have already raised their minimum wages—and that it’s not just deep blue and expensive states like California, New York, or Massachusetts. In 2018, voters in Arkansas and Missouri raised their states’ minimum wages to $11 in 2021 and $12 in 2023, respectively. In 2020, more than 60% of Florida voters passed an amendment raising their state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2026. The Democratic senators most likely to stand in the way of a meaningful minimum wage increase are West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema. Arizona voters in 2016 passed increases to $12 in 2020, with the minimum wage indexed to the cost of living after that. West Virginia’s minimum wage is $8.75 an hour.

But third, the history of proposals for a regional minimum wage is instructive.

“When the first federal minimum wage was being debated in the 1930s, Southern congressmen strongly opposed the federal standard, concerned that it would upset the white supremacist plantation system that dominated the South’s economy,” David Cooper and Lawrence Mishel write at the Economic Policy Institute. “In fact, Southern lawmakers insisted that the federal wage standard should be adjusted by region to account for differences in costs of living. What ultimately led to the minimum wage law’s passage as a single national wage floor was a “compromise” with Southern Democrats to exempt agriculture, restaurants, and a host of other service-sector industries that disproportionately employed Black workers. Even after it was amended in 1967 to cover more of these industries, the law still exempted most farmworkers—who today are majority Latinx—and allowed employers to pay a subminimum wage to tipped workers—who today are overwhelmingly women.”

Huh. What do you know. The early attempts for a regional minimum wage were about keeping wages low for specific people—as evidenced by the fact that the acceptable compromise was the one that wrote Black workers and Latino workers and women workers out of the policy. And once again we’re seeing efforts to keep wages low in ways that would, according to a 2019 analysis, disproportionately hurt Black workers and women of color. More than one in three of the workers who would lose out from a regional proposal similar to one suggested by Third Way would be women of color. Black workers would, on average, get half the raise they would get from the Raise the Wage Act.

Raising the minimum wage would lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty. The best available economic research, drawing on actual real-life minimum wage increases that have already happened, tells us that it would not cost jobs. It’s a matter of basic fairness, allowing workers to get a small share of increased productivity. By raising wages disproportionately for women and people of color, it would promote equity. It’s popular. This should be a no-brainer as an issue even for the likes of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, and a sledgehammer for Democrats to use against Republicans, not an issue to muddle with talk of a regional increase or other insulting compromises.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on April 6, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. Clawson has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently assistant managing editor at the Daily Kos.


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Working Life Episode 217: It’s All North Carolina – The Fight For 15 and the Campaign for a Progressive U.S. Senator

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It’s all about North Carolina today—the fight for better wages and the campaign to get a progressive person in the U.S. Senate, all of which is connected to my two guests today who represent the theme of the just-marked International Womens Day.

The sad outcome of the push to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour tells us two things. First, there is a big house cleaning needed to make way for politicians who actually care about workers. Second, no matter what happens in elections, we need to keep up the street heat to mobilize millions of people to stop the immorality of people working full-time but getting paid poverty wages while billionaires get even richer.

First up, then, is Precious Cole. Precious lives in Durham, North Carolina and works at Wendy’s. She has been working minimum wage jobs for half her life and, like millions of other workers, has, year after year, not been able to meet her monthly bills earning what is a poverty wage. Which is one reason Precious has become a key activist and leader in North Carolina Raise Up, the state branch of the national Fight for 15 and a Union network. She chats with me about her life and her activism.

Then, you may remember state Senator Erica Smith—she was a progressive who jumped into the 2020 North Carolina race for the U.S. Senate to challenge incumbent Republican Thom Tillis. But, the D.C. insiders shoved her aside, handpicking the most uninspired, dumb-as-a-brick candidate Cal Cunningham who, with piles of corporate and party-directed money, won the primary—and, then, proceeded to crash and burn, handing Tillis his re-election.

The 2022 election is a barometer for whether lessons have been learned. As the results of the Florida minimum wage ballot initiative showed—it passed overwhelmingly even as Joe Biden was losing the state—people are saying pretty clearly: give me a policy that puts money in my pocket and isn’t about supporting the rich over regular people, and I’ll vote for it whether you call it “progressive” or “a loaf of bread.” Erica is back for another Senate race, competing for the party primary nod for the seat that is opening up in 2022 with the retirement of Richard Burr. I talk with her about her campaign and the mood in North Carolina.

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on March 10, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a political / organizing / economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years.


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Essential Workers Deserve $15 An Hour

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I’m one of America’s millions of essential workers. We’re working in your children’s schools, at your grocery stores, and at drive-through windows. We’re cleaning your homes.

And we’re struggling so hard to make ends meet.

Congress is debating whether to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Experts say this would raise wages for 32 million workers like me.

Supporters had hoped to pass the increase as part of the COVID-19 relief package, but an obscure parliamentary rule says they can’t. Now supporters in Congress will have to decide how hard they’ll fight for us.

I want to share a bit about what it’s like to work for less than a living wage — especially during this pandemic.

In my last job, I sold vacuums door to door. My coworkers and I had to go into strangers’ houses to demonstrate the equipment. But our company didn’t provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and it didn’t require employees or clients to socially distance or wear masks.

Eventually, I caught COVID-19. Instead of supporting me, my manager repeatedly questioned me for quarantining. I didn’t want to risk my life for a low-wage job with no benefits, so I left.

Now I work two low-wage jobs, but neither has benefits. The safety precautions are a little better, but as a home care worker, I’m caring for patients who may or may not wear masks.

It’s especially stressful because I live with my mom, who’s in several high-risk categories. My two jobs aren’t enough to afford an apartment with utilities, furniture, and other expenses, so we’re living in a hotel.

The pandemic made this harder, but the truth is that it’s always been hard — I’m 23 and I’ve already had too many jobs to count. I keep changing jobs to escape poverty wages, harassment, discrimination, exploitation, danger, and a lack of health care. Wherever I go, it doesn’t seem to get better.

This isn’t right. And that’s why I’ve learned to fight back.

When I was working at McDonald’s for $7.25 an hour a few years ago, a co-worker told me she was going to a rally for the Fight for $15 campaign. I asked to go along. It was an amazing experience. We were all there for each other, working for structural change so that we don’t have to live this way. So no one does.

I started dedicating my life to achieving a living wage, union rights, and health care for all. And right now, we’re so close to $15.

Some lawmakers don’t think essential workers like me need a livable wage. I want to tell them they’re wrong. We’re the ones taking care of your ailing parents, teaching your kids, and putting food on your table.

My mom and I deserve a place to call our own. My fellow low-wage workers deserve to be able to buy good food, get quality healthcare, and securely house their families in exchange for their hard and often dangerous work.

Even before the pandemic, 140 million Americans were poor or low-income. Now the economy is down 10 million jobs since the pandemic hit, and at least 8 million more of us are living in poverty.

I don’t want to have to struggle so hard to survive. I don’t want that for anyone. We’ll need more than a living wage to make ends meet for all of us — we’ll need stronger unions and better health care, too — but fair pay for hard work would be a great place to start.

The minimum wage must be raised to $15 an hour. Join the Fight for $15 where you live, and call on your representatives to make it happen. Together we can make this a reality.

This blog originally appeared at Our Future on March 6, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eshawney Gaston is an essential worker and a leader with NC Raise Up, the North Carolina branch of Fight for $15 and a Union. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.


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Prepared Remarks: Sanders Speaks on the Urgency of Raising the Minimum Wage and Passing the American Rescue Plan

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate on the need to pass the American Rescue Plan Act and offered an amendment to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. His remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

Mr. President, I rise today to offer an amendment to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour over a 5-year period and I will be speaking on that amendment in a moment.

But before I do that, let me begin my remarks by talking about why this reconciliation bill that we are debating today is so important and why we need to pass it as soon as possible.

Let’s be clear.  Today, in America, we are living through one of the worst economic crises in the modern history of America and the worst public health crisis in more than a hundred years. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is still raging across the country.  Meanwhile, over 90 million Americans today are either uninsured or under-insured and can’t afford to go to a doctor when they get sick.  The isolation and anxiety caused by the pandemic has resulted in a huge increase in mental illness.

During the pandemic, 63% of American workers have been living paycheck to paycheck, including millions of essential workers who put their lives on the line each and every day for totally inadequate wages. 

More than 23 million Americans are unemployed, under employed or have given up looking for work, while hunger in this country continues to soar.

Because of lack of income, millions of Americans owe thousands of dollars in back rent and many of them face the threat of eviction.  This is on top of the 500,000 who are already homeless.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest people in this country are becoming much richer, and income and wealth inequality is skyrocketing.  Incredibly, during the pandemic, over 650 billionaires in America have increased their wealth by more than $1 trillion.

As a result of the pandemic education in this country from childcare to graduate school, is in chaos.  The majority of young people in this country have seen their education disrupted and it is likely that hundreds of colleges will soon cease to exist.

In this moment of unprecedented crises, the Senate must respond through unprecedented action.   

Mr. President, for too long Congress has responded to the needs of the wealthy and the powerful.  Now it is time to respond to the needs of working families – black and white, Latino, Native American and Asian American.

That is what this reconciliation bill is all about.

This Budget Reconciliation bill that we are debating today will enable us to aggressively crush the pandemic which has already taken over 500,000 lives – and enable the American people to return to their jobs and schools.

It will establish a national emergency program to produce the quantity of vaccines that we need and get them into the arms of our people as quickly as possible.

It will allow us to keep the promises we made to the American people and increase the $600 in direct payments for working-class adults and their children to $2,000.

What that means is that a typical family of four would get a direct payment of $5,600.

The Budget Reconciliation bill that we are considering today will provide $400 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits to over 10 million Americans until the end of August.

Further, Mr. President, all of us know that we have a childcare crisis in America.  This Budget Reconciliation bill will provide the resources necessary to provide childcare to 875,000 kids in America.  

It will expand the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,000 and to $3,600 for kids under the age of 6.

And by taking these steps we will be cutting the child poverty in half.  Let me repeat that.  If we pass this bill, we will cut child poverty in the United States of America by 50 percent.

Further, this bill will provide $350 billion to prevent mass layoffs of public sector workers in state and local governments. 

At a time when over 90 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured, this bill will enable the Senate to substantially increase access to health care for millions of Americans, including a significant expansion of Medicaid.  

It will allow more Americans to receive the primary care that they need through a $7.6 billion increase in funding for community health centers.  It will address the serious shortage of doctors and nurses in rural areas and inner cities by expanding the National Health Service Corps.  And it will make sure our veterans receive the healthcare they have earned and deserve by increasing funding at the VA by $17 billion.

In addition, Mr. President, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, we can no longer tolerate hunger in America and the long bread lines that have stretched mile after mile during the pandemic.

This bill will provide nutrition assistance to tens of millions of hungry families with children, the disabled and the elderly.

Further, Mr. President, this bill will provide rent relief, utility assistance and mortgage assistance to millions of tenants and homeowners who are in danger of eviction and foreclosure.  

It will begin to address the crisis of homelessness in America.

Further, Mr. President, all of us must acknowledge that there is a pension crisis in America today.  As a result of the greed on Wall Street, workers and retirees in multi-employer pension plans are in danger of seeing their retirement benefits cut by as much as 65 percent.  That is unacceptable. 

When a worker is promised a pension after a lifetime of work that promise must be kept.  This bill will provide the resources necessary to prevent the pensions of millions of Americans from being cut.

Mr. President, not only is this $1.9 trillion emergency COVID-relief package the right thing to do from a moral perspective and a public policy perspective, it is exactly what over 70 percent of the American people want us to do.

But, Mr. President, because of an unfortunate and misguided decision by the parliamentarian, this reconciliation bill does not include an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In my view, an unelected staffer in the Senate should not be in charge of determining whether 32 million workers in America receive a raise.

It is hard for me to understand how drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was considered to be consistent with the Byrd Rule, while increasing the minimum wage is not.

Therefore, Mr. President, I am offering an amendment today with Majority Leader Schumer, Senator Patty Murray, Senator Ron Wyden and many others in this Chamber to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.

This amendment is similar to legislation which has been co-sponsored by 38 members of the Senate and legislation which has already passed the House. 

This amendment is supported by some 300 national organizations including the AFL-CIO and virtually all of the major unions in our country. 

And because raising the minimum wage to a living wage will significantly benefit women and people of color it is supported by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Organization for Women, UNIDOS, the American Association of University Women, Indivisible, Justice for Migrant Women, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and the National Women’s Law Center.

And while raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will mean a wage increase for over 30 million Americans, given the fact that nearly 50% of Black and Latino workers earn less than $15 an hour, it will be a huge help to those communities.

Let’s be clear.  This is the richest country in the history of the world.  We can no longer tolerate millions of our workers being unable to feed their families because they are working for starvation wages.  

Mr. President, nobody in America can survive on $7.25 an hour, $9 an hour or $12 an hour.  We need an economy in which all of our workers earn at least a living wage.

It is a national disgrace that Congress has not passed an increase in the minimum wage since 2007 – 14 years ago.

It is totally unacceptable that the minimum wage has lost over 30 percent of its purchasing power since 1968.

Yes. Now is the time to raise the minimum wage to a living wage – at least $15 an hour.  A job in the United States of America should lift you out of poverty, not keep you in it.

And when we increase that minimum wage to $15 an hour we will be giving over 32 million Americans a much needed raise. 

In fact, if this amendment becomes law, the average low-wage worker in America would receive $3,300 in additional income – each and every year.

And let’s be clear.  More than 60 percent of the American people support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.  This is not a radical idea.  This is what the American people want.

Since 1998, every time a state has had an initiative on the ballot to raise the minimum wage it has won – no matter if that state was red, blue or purple.

In November 61% of the people in Florida – a state Joe Biden lost by 3 points – voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

8 states and over 40 cities have adopted laws to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Just a few days ago, the House did the right thing and passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Now, this issue rests in the Senate. 

We must understand that the issue of starvation wages is a national emergency.  We must raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In the last few days, I have heard some concerns from my colleagues about one part of our amendment and that is the provision to raise the tipped wage which now stands unbelievably at $2.13 an hour.  Yes, the federal minimum wage for waiters and waitresses, barbers, hair stylists, parking attendants and others is at $2.13 and has not been raised since 1991 – 30 years ago.

The proposal in this legislation would raise that tipped wage from $2.13 an hour to $14.95 over a seven year period – something which is desperately needed.

The National Restaurant Association, a very powerful lobbying organization has suggested to Members of Congress that this legislation is opposed by restaurant workers and would be harmful to their interests.  This is not true.  One Fair Wage, an organization representing service employees has just delivered to the White House a petition with 140,000 signatures from service workers who are demanding that they receive the same minimum wage as every other worker.

Polling among service employees and non-service employees also supports the reality that Americans want our waiters, waitresses and other service employees to get a fair minimum wage.

Now I have heard from some that people who are working in the service industry are doing really well and they don’t need an increase in the minimum wage.  The tips that they are receiving are covering all of their needs.  Really?

Today, 70% of tipped workers are women who suffer from three times the poverty rate of the rest of the US workforce, use food stamps at double the rate, and suffer from the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry because they must tolerate inappropriate customer behavior to feed their families in tips.

Further, let us be very clear, the idea of moving tipped wages to the same level as the overall minimum wage is not a radical idea.

It already exists in seven states including California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Montana, Alaska, and Minnesota.

And I should point out that all of these states experienced a growth in the number of small businesses and restaurants after they abolished the tipped minimum wage.  And guess what?  Waiters and waitresses in these states received more in tips, not less.

Let’s talk about how the pandemic has affected tipped workers. In many states where the tipped minimum wage still exists, tipped workers did not even qualify for unemployment because their wages were too low.

And let’s be clear.  In an industry where more than 6 million people have lost their jobs, over 60% of sub-minimum wage earners could not get unemployment benefits because the state and federal government denied them benefits for not making enough earned income. At the same time, as restaurants re-open the CDC has declared restaurants as the most dangerous place to work, and now servers are responsible for enforcing new rules and protocols around social distancing and wearing masks. 

The restaurant industry has some of the highest rates of sexual harassment. In a workplace where 70% of the workers are women, and where they rely on their customers to determine their wages, women are often expected to withstand sexual harassment in order to get paid. 

In states where the sub minimum wage has been eliminated sexual harassment has been cut in half. And that is exactly what we should be doing on the federal level.

Mr. President, in my view, it all comes down to this. Which side are you on? Are you on the side of the working people in America who desperately need a raise? Or are you on the side of the wealthy and the powerful who want to continue exploiting their workers and paying starvation wages? It ain’t more complicated than that.

I urge my colleagues to stand with the working class of America. I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on March 5, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a political / organizing / economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years.


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Tipped workers face added sexual harassment during the pandemic, this week in the war on workers

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In the fight for a $15 minimum wage, don’t forget about tipped workers. While the federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour since 2009—and Congress hasn’t passed an increase since 2007—the tipped worker minimum wage has been at $2.13 an hour since 1991. The theory is that workers get at least minimum wage thanks to tips, or else employers make up the difference. The reality can be very different: “the federal Department of Labor’s wage and hour division has estimated that 84% of restaurants violate labor standards including tip violations. In other words, far too often, workers don’t get the tips they’re due,” Saru Jayaraman of One Fair Wage writes.

And working for tips opens workers up to racism, sexism, and sexual harassment. Research shows that Black waiters get lower tips, and waiters viewed as attractive get higher tips. Now, there’s a new twist, Jayaraman reports. “Male customers are making lewd and sexualized comments about servers’ masks and saying things to women servers like, ‘Take off your mask so I can see how much to tip you.’ In other words, while tips and, thus, wages for restaurant workers are plummeting, sexual harassment is rising.”

This is gross and awful, and while it would be great to see immediate justice in the form of drinks in faces and food dumped on laps, it would be still better if workers didn’t have to put up with that kind of harassment to make a living wage.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on March 6, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. Clawson has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently assistant managing editor at the Daily Kos.


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AFL-CIO to explore taking a stance on eliminating filibuster

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The AFL-CIO’s executive board will meet next week to determine its position on eliminating the filibuster, the labor federation’s president, Richard Trumka, told POLITICO Thursday.

Two of organized labor’s highest priorities in Congress — boosting the minimum wage to $15 an hour and legislation containing a long list of union priorities known as the PRO Act — are unlikely to garner the 60 votes needed for passage in the Senate.

“There are several ways to get them done,” Trumka said. Ending the filibuster “is one of them.”

“And quite frankly, we — we being my executive board — are going to have a discussion about that next Wednesday,” he said. “We’re going to have that discussion [about] where we ought to be on that very issue.”

If organized labor coalesces around overturning the filibuster, a priority for many progressives, it could give the movement significant momentum. A major ally of Democrats and the president’s election campaign, unions have seen early success in lobbying the Biden White House. Unions pressed Biden, after weeks of silence, to speak out on a high-stakes union election at an Amazon factory in Alabama — which some say was the most pro-union statement a president has ever made.”

The Raise the Wage Act, which Democrats had been hoping to clear as part of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief bill, would hike the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 and eliminate the subminimum wage for workers who earn tips. But the Senate parliamentarian last week ruled the wage provisions ineligible for enactment via the budget reconciliation process Democrats are using to shield the relief legislation from a GOP filibuster in the Senate.

The PRO Act would dramatically expand workers’ ability to join and form unions, including by empowering the National Labor Relations Board to levy fines on employers who retaliate against workers for attempting to organize, and by extending collective bargaining rights to more workers.

“The PRO Act is our litmus test,” Trumka said. “It has to get done.”

“I don’t want to hear, ‘Oh my, we don’t have 60 votes, woe is we.’ Figure out a way to do it. Let’s figure out a way to do it.”

The White House is weighing whether to compromise with Republicans — who recently offered their own, scaled-down minimum wage hike — in order to get a raise enacted once Congress passes its Covid relief bill. But asked if he would be willing to back down from $15 an hour, Trumka was blunt: “I’m not willing to move from it.”

“I think that’s the absolute minimum that’s necessary to dignify people, reward work and help a family get out of poverty,” he said. “The easiest path forward would be for [Republicans] to come to their senses and say, ‘$15 by 2025.'”

In addition to eliminating the filibuster, the labor federation will also explore whether Democrats can “find another bill that the Republicans want and append” the wage increase to it, Trumka said, “or do three or four other kinds of machinations that we can do.”

Rebecca Rainey contributed to this report.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on March 4, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro’s daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.

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


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A Minimum Wage? A Fake Debate

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Capitalism’s “conservative” defenders yet again oppose raising the minimum wage. They fought raising it in the past much as they tried to prevent the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) that first mandated a U.S. minimum wage. The major argument opponents have used is this: setting or raising a minimum wage threatens small employers. They may collapse or else fire employees; either way, jobs are lost. What is conveniently assumed here is a necessary contradiction between minimum wages and small business jobs. That assumption enables opponents to claim that not setting a legal minimum wage, like not raising it, saves jobs. The system thus presents very poorly paid workers with this choice: low wages or no wages.

“Liberals” in the United States have mostly accepted the assumption of that contradiction, the necessity of that final choice. However, they try to demonstrate that the social gains from a higher minimum wage would exceed the social losses from the reduced employment they admit. Their idea, in effect, is that a higher minimum wage would increase demand for goods and services. Any workers fired because of the minimum wage would be rehired elsewhere to meet the rising demand. Countless empirical studies by conservatives and liberals yield, as usual, correspondingly conflicting conclusions.

In the actual history of U.S. capitalism, the minimum wage has been undercut from the outset. In real terms (what the minimum wage can actually buy), its long-term decline began from a peak in 1968. It was last raised in 2009 (to $7.25 per hour) despite a rising consumer price index every year since then. U.S. business interests plus the “conservative” politicians, media, and academics they support have inundated the public with the idea that raising the minimum wage will hurt poorly paid workers (by losing mostly small business jobs) more than help them. This debate over the minimum wage, intensified whenever proposals to raise it gain public attention, has been “won” chiefly by the conservative/business side.

Despite its political effectiveness for conservatives and big business till now, their argument—like the entire debate—is flawed logically. Its underlying, shared assumption is unnecessary and inaccurate. It serves chiefly to undercut the level, purpose, and social effects of the minimum wage in the United States.

Paying a decent living wage to workers by raising the minimum wage need not threaten the viability of small businesses. The latter need not collapse nor fire workers when minimum wages are raised. Indeed, raising the minimum wage can and should be one basis for a mutually beneficial alliance between wage workers and small businesses.

Few dare quarrel with the notion that in the U.S. today, paying the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is an outrage against decency. It is among the very lowest minimum wages of industrialized economies: quite the achievement for one of the “richest countries in the world.” So the defense of such an outrage has always begun by focusing attention elsewhere. We are asked to sympathize with the small businesses whose profits and thus viability will be undone if they are required to pay a raised minimum wage. We are asked likewise to sympathize with the plight of minimum wage workers who will become jobless when their employer cannot pay a raised minimum wage. Thus the conclusion beloved by opponents of raising the minimum wage: it lies in the interest of low-paid workers and small businesses to join the opposition to raising the minimum wage.

So many flaws attend such logic that it is not easy to decide where to begin its demolition. We might note that it clearly implies that were we to drop the minimum wage even further, below $7.25 per hour, we might achieve lower unemployment rates. But that is so gross an idea that right-wingers rarely go there. They don’t dare.

There is a parallel example we can draw from the history of wage workers when they included children as young as five years old. The parallel logic then held that allowing child labor (with the oppression and abuses it entailed) was doing poor families a favor. Were child labor to be outlawed, capitalism’s defenders then insisted, two tragedies would necessarily follow. First, poor families would suffer an income loss because they could no longer sell their children’s labor power to capitalist employers for a wage. Second, businesses whose profits depended at least partly on low-wage child labor would collapse and render adults jobless too.

It is important to note that after sustained political agitation, child labor was in fact outlawed. The logic of its defenders was rejected and rarely resurfaced afterward even in right-wing and “conservative” literature. Former capitalist employers of children found other means (paying adults more, improving productivity, economizing on other inputs, and so on) to profit and grow. As we know, U.S. capitalism over the last century prospered without child labor. And where U.S. capitalists relocated abroad to employ children, opposition there has replicated what happened in the United States, albeit slowly. What happened to child labor can and likely will happen as well to abysmally low minimum wages.

How then might a civilized society raise its minimum wage to provide a decent livelihood to workers and protect its small businesses? The solution is straightforward. Offset the extra labor costs for small businesses from a higher minimum wage by providing them with some combination of the following: a new and significant share of government orders, tax breaks, and government subsidies. Such supports now overwhelmingly favor big business and thereby facilitate its many efforts to destroy and replace small businesses. Those supports should be reapportioned with special consideration/targeting for small businesses. To be eligible, small businesses would need to show how raising the minimum wage increased their total wage bill. In this way, society can concretely support small business and a decent minimum wage as twin, shared social values.

In effect, this proposal changes the terrain of the minimum wage debate. It brings into stark relief that raising the minimum wage leaves open the question of which part of the employer class will bear the burden of compensating for that in the short run. An effective political coalition of low-wage workers and small businesses could require big business to pay by losing some of its government business, paying higher taxes, or obtaining lower subsidies—all to compensate small businesses for a raised minimum wage. For decades, an alternative political coalition—of big and small business—blocked or delayed minimum wage increases. Nothing requires this latter coalition to always or, indeed, ever prevail over a competing coalition of labor and small business that seeks a higher minimum wage for one plus greater state supports for the other. Likewise, nothing warrants continuing the current debate over raising the minimum wage as if only small business would always have to absorb its possible costs.

The debate over the minimum wage has been lopsided for a very long time. Uncritical media coverage of the debate has allowed big business to evade its proper share of paying to sustain a viable small business sector. Meanwhile, workers and small businesses pay taxes that favor big business. Most Americans want a thriving small business sector. Most also increasingly criticize big business: “antitrust” remains part of government regulation as well as a part of popular ideologies. We can and should correct the old debate now to enable a different political coalition to shape minimum wages in a different way from the past.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

About the Author: Richard D. Wolff is professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a visiting professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, in New York. Wolff’s weekly show, “Economic Update,” is syndicated by more than 100 radio stations and goes to 55 million TV receivers via Free Speech TV. His three recent books with Democracy at Work are The Sickness Is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us From Pandemics or ItselfUnderstanding Marxism, and Understanding Socialism.


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Manchin and Sinema are poised to tank $15 minimum wage, so here come the insulting ‘compromises’

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A minimum wage increase goes before the Senate parliamentarian on Wednesday to find out if it passes muster for inclusion in the COVID-19 relief package being passed under budget reconciliation. Democrats feel good that a recent Congressional Budget Office analysis shows the measure has enough budget impact for reconciliation, allowing it to be passed by a simple majority vote. But even if the parliamentarian agrees, the plan for a $15 minimum wage in 2025 is in deep peril thanks to Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. So now the rush is on for senators to float proposals trying to make themselves look like heroes of the low-wage worker without, you know, supporting anything like an actual living wage.

Sens. Tom Cotton and Mitt Romney came out with a plan for a $10 minimum wage by 2025. This is pitifully low—in fact, Cotton’s own state of Arkansas has an $11 minimum wage right now, following a 2018 ballot measure that got the support of 68% of Arkansas voters. When opponents of a $15 minimum wage (who themselves make much, much more) start talking about how it’s just too much for some regions of the country, consider that Arkansas vote.

Cotton and Romney also want to tie their insultingly inadequate pay raise to an anti-immigrant measure, requiring all employers to use E-Verify to ensure they don’t hire undocumented immigrants. In other words, Republicans are advancing an unacceptable bill in hopes of claiming that Democrats were the ones to block a minimum wage increase.

Again, 68% of Arkansas voters passed an $11 minimum wage measure in 2018. In 2020, just over 60% of Florida voters passed a $15 minimum wage measure, which will raise the state’s minimum wage to $10 on Sept. 30, 2021 and get to $15 in September 2026.

Manchin, too, has his own insulting minimum wage proposal. He’s pushing for $11, claiming it’s more appropriate for states like his own West Virginia. Except $11 is not a living wage in West Virginia. Not only that, but back in 2014, Manchin backed a $10.10 minimum wage. Seven years later, he’s only gone up to $11? Sinema similarly backed the $10.10 minimum wage in 2014, by the way.

Cotton and Romney’s proposal is a nonstarter. Manchin at least offers Democrats something to work with since he doesn’t seem intent on attaching a poison pill to an inadequate raise. He and Sinema should come under intense pressure to do the right thing. While they should—if they have any allegiance either to low-wage workers or to economic realities—pass the Raise the Wage Act, getting the federal minimum wage to $15 in 2025, there may not be enough pressure in the world for these two drunk on their own power as swing votes and in love with their conservative Democrat self-image.

Here’s where we are now as Manchin and Sinema hold up a series of gradual increases to $15. The $7.25 federal minimum wage hasn’t gone up since 2009, and given inflation since that time, it would need to be $8.81 an hour to have the same buying power it did in 2009. Full-time work at $7.25 an hour puts the single parent of one child below the federal poverty threshold, or puts a single worker with no dependents only slightly out of poverty. 

The highest the minimum wage has ever been, as far as inflation and buying power, was in 1968, when it was the equivalent of $12.27 in today’s dollars. At the moment, 29 states and the District of Columbia have higher minimum wages than $7.25 an hour, including Manchin’s West Virginia ($8.75) and Sinema’s Arizona ($11). Full-time, year-round work at $15 an hour yields an annual income of just over $31,000. Does that sound outrageously high? In fact, right now, never mind in 2025, even $15 an hour isn’t truly a living wage.

This is what Manchin and Sinema—to say nothing of every single Republican—are moaning and groaning about.

But if there is no amount of pressure enough to make them do the right thing, then a compromise could, under some circumstances, be better than nothing. The Raise the Wage Act reaches $11 in 2022, $12.50 in 2023, $14 in 2024, and $15 in 2025; after that, the minimum wage becomes indexed to the median wage. If Manchin and Sinema could sign on to hitting one of those intermediate steps—say, $12.50—and indexing it to the median wage while also raising the tipped worker subminimum wage that has been stuck at $2.13 an hour since 1991, well … it wouldn’t be enough, but it would help millions of workers, and indexing the minimum wage would ensure that those workers never again go more than decade without a raise.

A $15 minimum wage should be the starting point in a discussion. Unfortunately, the United States’ broken politics and the minority rule of the Senate may put it out of reach, consigning millions of U.S. workers to poverty for years to come. That’s something to mourn, and to organize to change. In the short term, Democrats need to do the best they can do by working people.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on February 24, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. Clawson has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently assistant managing editor at the Daily Kos.


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Working Life Episode 214: Your Future Talking Points for $15-an-hour Minimum Wage; Alabama is Amazon Unionizing Ground Zero

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Right before our eyes, in these very days and at this time of crisis, you can see so clearly this bankrupt system, defended and promoted by greedy CEOs and spineless politicians, but a system people are trying to rebel against and take down. And that’s the picture of two really important fights—the fight to get millions of workers a $15-an-hour minimum wage and the organizing campaign at Amazon.

It’s infuriating to keep reading about these so-called Democrats, and, of course, every single Republican, who oppose raising the federal minimum wage to $15-an-hour? How deeply out of touch are these people who oppose giving people a semi-livable wage to try to survive on? So, in service to my listeners, I’ve given you four—just four!—easy talking points to argue for hiking the immorally low minimum wage.

Then, I return to the organizing campaign underway at Amazon’s huge warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. There is never enough conversation about organizing Amazon because of its power and how a victory in this campaign will inspire workers at other Amazon warehouses, not to mention labor as a whole. I am joined by Joshua Brewer, a main organizer of the campaign for the Retail Wholesale & Department Store Workers, for the latest on-the-ground intel.

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on February 17, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a political / organizing / economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years.


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