Economic Recovery and The Fight for $15

Unsplash | @eastlondonphotographer

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Now that Joe Biden has been officially sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, we have a Democratic Congress in lockstep with the new administration on an array of critical economic relief measures. We can now begin the real work toward economic recovery. That starts with raising the minimum wage.

President Biden has already made his stance on the job and wage crisis extremely clear in his American Rescue Plan, a much-needed multi-trillion relief and stimulus package, where he centers raising the minimum wage to $15 as a vital point in replenishing the economy. The federal minimum wage has been stagnant since 2009 and rests at a poverty-level amount of $7.25 an hour, despite the significant increase in worker productivity and costs of living across the country over the last decade. 

Biden’s proposal for $15 an hour also eliminates the tipped minimum wage. The origin of the tipped minimum wage is heavily rooted in systemic racism, as the measure was originally created as a way to justify underpaying former Black slaves following the Civil War. This outdated provision has left millions of workers vulnerable to abuse, sexual harassment, and financial uncertainty. It’s commendable that Biden and his administration have committed to unraveling this unjust practice after almost 30 years of being stuck at an unthinkable $2.13 an hour.

Following the proposal’s announcement, right-wing critics almost immediately chimed in with their negative comments and numerous previously debunked theories on why it just isn’t possible to award a living wage to working Americans during a pandemic and economic recession. Those critics are dead wrong.

Raising the minimum wage would not only drastically improve the lives and livelihoods of minimum wage workers, but it would also increase the rate of families moving out of poverty thus reducing the need for federal and state assistance, to begin with. Can you imagine being a mother, working for minimum wage during a pandemic; not knowing if you’d be called into work, laid off of work, or exposed to COVID-19 because of the lack of worker protections in place to ensure that you and your family are safe physically or financially? 

Minimum wage workers truly do not get the credit that they deserve. The tumult of 2020 spawned a sharp increase in demand for fast food and delivery services, but low-wage workers were not compensated for that increase in demand. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is a key first step in ensuring that every worker has the right to dignity and basic protections against predatory employers.

Raising the minimum wage is also targeted and direct Covid-19 relief. 

It is estimated that 40 million workers will receive a raise in pay if Biden’s proposal is passed. That is an astonishing 26.6 percent of the workforce and two-thirds of the working poor class. The working poor has suffered the most during this pandemic because of a labor market with disproportionately cut low-wage jobs and months of unemployment that quickly ate away at scant savings. The working poor will benefit the most from this positive economic shift. There is simply no way that someone should work a full-time job and still be in poverty when they go home.

What’s more, we’ve actually already reaped some of the benefits of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour when Congress distributed $1,200 stimulus checks along with $600/week financial assistance for the unemployed. This notion ensured that millions of low-wage workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic would be making the equivalent of $15 an hour. This resulted in the poverty rate decreasing by 2 full points in April and May of 2020 from what it was earlier in the year. Consumer spending also increased for the first time since the pandemic.

So raising the wage isn’t just good for workers – it would also be a sorely-needed boon for the economy. Increasing the minimum wage would create a surge of economic growth as a result of increased consumer spending and a sharp rise in disposable income. A better economy will benefit all people across the board, including business owners and investors like us. We need folks to buy our products, create new things, and keep dollars flowing to American communities if we want to keep making money, so this should be a no-brainer.

And yet, even with all this evidence, critics still oppose a fair, living wage for working people. Why is paying minimum wage workers more than $7.25 an hour so intimidating to the right-wing, when we all know that is simply not a living wage in this day and age? It makes no economic sense and certainly makes no moral sense to let this abysmal wage stay put.

 

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