Economy

Members Of Congress Introduce Largest Minimum Wage Hike Yet

CREDIT: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Iowa Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders

On Wednesday, members of Congress will introduce a national increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) along with Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison (MN), Raúl Grijalva (AZ), and other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus will release details of the legislation after a morning event that day.

A $15 minimum wage hike marks a significant increase from past Democratic bills to raise it. In his 2013 State of the Union, President Obama called for an increase to $9 an hour. Some lawmakers went further a month later with a bill that would have raised it to $10.10 an hour. Then earlier this year, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Robert Scott (D-VA) got closer to the $15 mark when they introduced a bill raising it to $12 an hour by 2020. Their bill also would phase out the lower minimum wage for tipped employees and automatically increase the wage as median wages rise. Details are not yet available on whether the Sanders and CPC bill will eliminate the tipped wage and when it would take effect.

As lawmakers were steadily increasing their target for a federal minimum wage hike, fast food workers began calling for a $15 minimum wage when they went on strike repeatedly in cities across the country. Those protests have since been joined by Walmart workers, home health aides, and adjunct professors. And some cities have heeded their call: San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles all passed minimum wage increases to $15 an hour, and Emeryville, California passed a $16 wage. It’s also expected that a wage board convened by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will recommend a $15 minimum wage for the state’s fast food workers on Wednesday.

All this activity doesn’t mean a federal bill will move forward, however. Although Republicans supported a minimum wage increases under President George W. Bush, they have blocked subsequent efforts to raise it.

Conservative critics also often warn that increasing the minimum wage will hurt jobs, particularly in low-wage sectors like fast food. But there is research showing that the industry could absorb a $15 minimum wage through reduced turnover, higher prices, and greater economic growth rather than cutting jobs. Other economists have found that the impact of higher minimum wages is close to zero, and when states have raised their wages over past decades they haven’t hurt jobs. States that have increased their wages have even seen above-average job growth.