The end of this month will mark a full decade since Congress has raised the federal minimum wage since it was first established in 1938. That’s 10 years that millions of workers across the country have gone without a single raise, trying to eke out a living on $7.25 an hour amidst surging rent and housing, rising costs of living, and inflation.
It’s a shameful record that, luckily, may come to an end tomorrow, July 18th, 2019.
The 2019 Raise the Wage Act, currently set for a vote tomorrow in the House of Representatives, would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024, starting with an immediate hike and gradual year-on-year raises, and would eliminate the sub-minimum tipped wage. As more and more House Democrats sign on to the bill, opponents have launched attack after attack saying a $15 wage is too much and too fast.
It isn’t remotely. A $15 minimum wage is just that: the bare minimum needed for workers in this country to survive.
40% of Americans currently earn less than $15 an hour, and not coincidentally, nearly 40% struggle to afford basic necessities such as rent or groceries. A minimum wage worker would need to work 2.5 jobs to be able to afford an average one-bedroom apartment.
What’s more, forecasts show that by 2024, $15 an hour will be the bare minimum needed for a single full-time worker to cover basic living expenses anywhere in the United States. A $15 minimum wage floor isn’t some outlandish demand. It’s the basic thing we have to do to ensure that half the country can just get by.
Though it’s certainly the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, it’s also the best thing for our economy. Stagnating wages have meant that minimum-wage workers have lost almost 10% of their purchasing power over the past decade. That means consumers – who are the real drivers of growth in the American economy – have less and less money to spend and keep goods and services flowing, so giving them a raise will pump that money right back into the economy.
Ensuring that America’s workers have a little more money in their pockets opens up a market of about 130 million people. The US economy hinges on consumer demand, and this is undoubtedly the right step to ensure that demand stays steady and strong. Raising the wage is an economic stimulus package just as much as it is a moral good.
Of course, there’s also the political argument, which might be relevant to those members of Congress who are still hesitant about the Raise the Wage Act. 55% of Americans support a $15 minimum wage, including a majority of independents and over a third of Republicans. Raising the wage is a consensus issue – morally, fiscally, and politically. It’s high past time for Congress to step up and recognize that fact, and abide by their duty to millions of Americans.