The federal minimum wage has remained at a deplorable amount of $7.25 an hour since 2009, despite the substantial increase in worker productivity and costs of living across the country. Luckily, The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on January 26th to remedy this injustice.
As President Joe Biden pushes for the increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour as part of his “American Rescue Plan, just as he assured his supporters on the campaign trail, he is facing significant backlash in Congress from all angles; Republicans and moderate Democrats alike.
12 out of 38 Democratic Senators have failed to cosponsor Biden’s “Raise the Wage” efforts. 12. Those Senators are Bob Menendez (NJ), Chris Coons (DE), Mark Kelly (AZ), Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), Joe Manchin (WV) Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Maggie Hassan (NH), John Hickenlooper (CO), Tom Carper (DE), Catherine Cortez-Masto (NV), Jon Tester (MT), and Angus King (ME).
At least 11 of the 12 moderate Democrats have spoken freely about their support of the increase of the minimum wage in the past. Now that it’s time to put action behind their words, however, they appear to be hesitant. Sens. Manchin, Coons, Sinema, and Tester all fully supported measures to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in the past few years. In 2016, Sen. Cortez-Masto publicly spoke about supporting a minimum wage increase of $12 an hour. Sen. Hickenlooper also publicly supported raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour during his own Senate campaign. So why have they failed to cosponsor the Raise the Wage Act if all of these Senators have appeared to be in support of raising the wage over the years?
All 38 Democratic senators should fully support increasing the minimum wage. The 12 senators need to understand that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would greatly benefit our national economy as well as all of their individual states.
32,181,000 working Americans would be affected by the minimum wage increase, meaning they would all receive wage increases due to previously earning less than $15 an hour. Failing to cosponsor the Raise the Wage Act is failing to move for the betterment of the entire economy and failing to assist the people who have been affected by the pandemic the most. It is failing to realize that there is a deep correlation between raising the minimum wage and COVID relief, at a time where we should be doing everything we can to put more money in people’s pockets – for their own good, and for our collective good.
Critics have argued that increasing the minimum wage can have negative economic effects, like forcing small businesses to close and reducing overall employment rates, and that may be why these Senators are hesitating. In reality, though, raising the minimum wage has little to no effect on employment. The Congressional Budget Office found that raising the minimum wage would drastically decrease poverty rates and could potentially lift 1.3 million people out of poverty.
The increase would result in $107 billion in wages to the country’s lowest-paid workers; the average workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic would receive an extra – and much needed $3,300 a year during these uncertain economic times. More money for these folks means more money infused directly into the economy since low-income workers will spend that extra cash right away in their own communities. In disproportionately low-income states like Sen. Manchin’s West Virginia and Sen. Cortez-Masto’s Nevada, that across-the-board pay bump could make a huge impact on struggling local economies.
Raising the minimum wage is essential if we want the economy to heal from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Low-wage workers, minorities, and women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The crisis brought plummeting employment rates, dwindling unemployment benefits, financial precarity, and fear of an uncertain future along with it. There is no way someone should work 40 hours a week and have to question if they’ll be able to pay their rent or afford childcare.
It is past time for workers to get paid a living wage. By 2024 workers in all states, both urban and rural areas will need to make at least $15 an hour to afford basic living necessities. It is already 2021, the clock is ticking.
Senators have the power to implement change in favor of the majority and that is exactly what they must do.