Our Nation’s Workers Need a Federal Minimum Wage They Can Live On

Washington, DC—Following is a statement from Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, in response to the introduction of the Raise the Wage Act of 2017 by Senators Bernie Sanders and Patty Murray, and Representatives Bobby Scott and Keith Ellison:

“The National Employment Law Project applauds the introduction of long-overdue legislation to gradually raise the nation’s minimum wage to $15 by 2024. The Raise the Wage Act of 2017 takes a necessary and crucial step to boost pay for America’s low-wage workers, far too many of whom are struggling to get by and are caught in perpetual cycles of poverty.

“There’s an old saying in our country that anyone can achieve the American Dream. It reflects the ideal that all people should have an equal opportunity to attain success and prosperity through hard work—and the notion that businesses have a responsibility to pay workers wages they can live on.

“Today, unfortunately, that ideal is far from the real-life experience of tens of millions of low-wage working Americans, who can barely afford life’s basic necessities even though they work long hours, often in several jobs. Today, nearly 4 in 10 workers in America struggle to survive on less than $31,200 a year, which is what a full-time worker paid $15 an hour makes in a year.

“Far from being teenagers, the 41 million workers who would get a raise under this new proposal are overwhelmingly mid-career adults. And they’re not only fast-food and retail workers, but also pre-school teachers, nursing assistants, bank tellers, factory workers, home health aides, construction laborers, and other occupations that we may expect to pay middle-class wages, but don’t.

“The federal minimum wage currently stands at $7.25 an hour, equating to just $15,080 a year for a full-time worker. This is below the poverty line for a family of two. Some states, such as California and New York, have answered the call to gradually raise rates to $15. But 21 states remain tied to the abysmally low federal rate. Adding insult to injury, some states have even taken measures to preempt local governments and municipalities from raising wages, and forcing those that have already raised their wages to restore them to their lower amounts.

“The need for a $15 minimum wage is not limited to places like New York and California. Cost-of-living data show that by 2024, in all 50 states a single worker employed full time will need at least $15 an hour to cover the basics—and workers in more expensive regions or with children will need even more.

“This legislation would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, and index it to median wage growth starting in 2025. It would also gradually increase the tipped minimum wage, which is currently $2.13 per hour, until it is brought to parity with the regular minimum wage. Lastly, the bill would gradually increase the minimum wage for workers with disabilities, as well as workers under the age of 20, until it reaches the $15 threshold. Closing these loopholes would lift wages for nearly one in three U.S. workers, including African American and Latino workers, of whom 50 percent and 60 percent, respectively, make less than $15 an hour.

“The bill’s introduction today coincides with the tenth anniversary of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, one of the last times the federal minimum wage was raised—underscoring the necessity of this long-overdue action at the federal level.

“We commend Senators Bernie Sanders and Patty Murray, Representatives Bobby Scott and Keith Ellison, and all the members of Congress who are sponsoring this much-needed bill.”

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