Can’t Survive on $7.25: Ten Years Since Last Increase, Congress Still Won’t Raise the Minimum Wage


“We’re asking for a chance to live, go to school, and live safely. Fifteen isn’t just necessary, it’s the bare minimum. And we’re going to keep making noise, we’re going to keep on organizing, and we’re going to do what’s necessary to win.”—Ditanya Rosebud, Fight for $15 member, Baltimore, Maryland

Introduction and Key Findings

Early 2019 has brought strong gains in the fight for a higher minimum wage across the country, with four states adopting a path to $15, bringing the total to seven plus the District of Columbia. NELP estimates that the Fight for $15’s advocacy has helped put nearly one-third of the U.S. workforce on the path to $15 by 2025, when Illinois reaches $15. That’s a long way since 2012, when fast-food workers walked off their jobs to protest low pay. But absent decisive federal action, nearly 100 million workers will continue to struggle, especially in the 21 states where the minimum wage has remained frozen at $7.25 for the past 10 years. That’s less than half of $15—the largest gap in history between the federal wage and higher-wage states. Congress must act now to pass the Raise the Wage Act of 2019.

Key Findings

  • Seven states and D.C. are already on the path to a $15 minimum wage, with four having joined the group in 2019: New Jersey, Illinois, Maryland, and Connecticut
  • 1% of the U.S. workforce (45 million workers) will be covered by a $15 minimum wage by 2025 under current state law phase-ins
  • 21 states have been stuck at the $7.25 federal minimum wage for 10 years, many with preemption laws that prevent local governments from going higher
  • These 21 states are home to 56 million workers, while a total of nearly 100 million still live in states with minimum wages below $15
  • Since 2009, the real value of the federal minimum has eroded and is now worth $6.11 in today’s dollars
  • The Raise the Wage Act of 2019 would increase wages for 40 million workers by gradually phasing in $15 by 2024
  • The act would end the exploitative tipped and disability sub-minimum wages
  • Nearly 40 percent of all Black workers would receive increases under the federal law, compared to 23.2 percent of white workers
  • Out of the 10 states with the highest concentration of African Americans, eight are among the states frozen at $7.25
  • Polls show overwhelming support for raising the national minimum wage to $15




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[9].        Kaiser Family Population, Population Distribution by Race/Ethnicity,

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[12].        National Low Income Housing Coalition, Out of Reach, June 6 2018,

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[25].        Arindrajit Dube, T. William Lester and Michael Reich, op. cit.

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[30].        Emily Flitter, “Bank of America Will Lift Minimum Wage to $20, as Lawmakers Spotlight Inequality,” April 9, 2019,

[31].        H.R. 582, Raise the Wage Act, 116th Congress,

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[33].      Robert C. Sutch, op. cit.

[34].      National Conference of State Legislatures, State Minimum Wages | 2019 Minimum Wage by State,

[35].        Alexia Fernández Campbell, “Voters just gave nearly 1 million workers a raise in 2 red states,” November 7, 2018,

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[39].     Alexia Fernández Campbell, ”A loophole in federal law allows companies to pay disabled workers $1 an hour,” Vox, May 3,

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