Ten Years In, Fight for $15 and a Union Movement Helped Reduce Racial Wealth Gap Nationally, Injected $87.6 Billion Annually into U.S. Economy

New NELP report analyzes impact of fast-food-worker-led campaign on 10th anniversary

NATIONWIDE—Ten years after New York City fast-food workers walked off the job to form the paradigm-shifting Fight for $15 and a Union, a new report from the National Employment Law Project finds the campaign led not only to significant raises and wage floor increases, but also helped decrease the racial wealth gap, increase union membership in industries outside of fast food, and boost annual economic output in the U.S. by billions.

“Over ten years, a campaign that began with a simple demand—every worker needs at least $15 an hour to get by—has helped Black and Latinx working people build wealth and inspired worker organizing across the U.S.,” said Yannet Lathrop, senior researcher and policy analyst at NELP and lead author of the report. “When we dug into the legacy of a decade-long movement, a clear message emerged from the data: when workers build power together, they move us all forward.”

The Fight for $15 and a Union campaign has helped Black and Latinx working people build wealth and inspired worker organizing across the U.S.

As campaigns building off the Fight for $15 take off around the country, the report animates how the original fast-food worker movement transcended its initial demand. Key findings include the following:

  • Reducing the racial wealth gap
    • In higher-wage states, the Black-white wealth gap decreased by 40.3 percentage points during the period analyzed, and the Latinx-white wealth gap decreased by 29.4 percentage points.
    • In states on a path to $15 or more, the Black-white and Latinx-white gaps decreased faster: by 54.3 and 48.0 percentage points, respectively.
  • Growing union membership
    • Among workers earning $15 per hour or more, union membership across industries grew much faster (18.4 percent) in higher-wage states, while it decreased by 3.5 percent in federal-rate states.
    • The Fight for $15 also benefited workers already in unions. The median hourly wage of union members in higher-wage states increased more than three times as fast as their counterparts in states where the minimum wage is at the federal floor (16.7 percent compared to 5.2 percent).
  • Generating billions in economic activity
    • Minimum wage policies since 2012 led to $87.6 billion in annual economic output.
    • That economic output supports an additional 452,000 jobs each year.

In the last decade, the Fight for $15 and a Union notched victories in 28 states and D.C. The once pie-in-the-sky $15 minimum wage is now the law of the land in 12 of those states, the District of Columbia, and dozens of cities and counties across the country. In total, more than 26 million workers have won higher pay to the tune of $150 billion. Nearly half (46 percent) of the benefiting workers are workers of color, whose additional earnings amount to slightly over 50 percent ($76 billion) of the estimated higher pay.

Read the full report here.

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