A rise in the federal minimum wage would benefit low-wage workers across the country, including those in the retail industry.
A rise in the federal minimum wage would benefit low-wage workers across the country, including those in the retail industry. (Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images)

Georgia’s state minimum wage is only $5.15 per hour, and the federal numbers aren’t much better. Biden has pledged to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, but he needs a Democrat-led Senate to do so.

On Jan. 5, 2021, voters in Georgia will decide control of the US Senate, and with it, the potential for a pay raise for millions of Americans—Georgians included.

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour—a figure that hasn’t increased in more than a decade—to $15 per hour and to eliminate the tipped minimum wage, which sits at $2.13 per hour. But to do so, he almost certainly needs a Democrat-led Senate. 

Republicans currently hold a 50-48 edge in the Senate. If even one of the incumbents (Sen. David Perdue or Sen. Kelly Loeffler) win their seat, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—who opposes raising the federal minimum wage—will retain control of the Senate, potentially blocking Biden’s agenda. But if Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock win, Biden would have the chance to push for a minimum wage hike and pressure Senate Republicans, some of whom are embracing economic populism to broaden their appeal to working-class voters.

Many of those voters live in Georgia, a state where 13.3% of residents lived in poverty even prior to the pandemic, according to the US Census Bureau. That’s well above the national rate of 10.5%.

Georgia’s state-level minimum wage also sits at only $5.15 per hour, making it one of only two states in the nation with a minimum wage lower than the federal rate. As a result, the $7.25 federal rate supersedes it in the case of nearly all workers. Economic struggles are especially prevalent in Atlanta, which has the worst income inequality of any large city in the country, according to a 2019 analysis from Bloomberg

Put simply, countless Georgia residents would benefit from raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Here are five other things to know about the struggle facing Georgia’s low-wage workers:

  1. Nearly one in two Georgia workers (45%) work low-wage jobs, earning under $15 per hour, according to the National Employment Law Project. An estimated 58,000 Georgia workers earn at or below the $7.25 federal minimum wage, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  2. These low-wage workers are disproportionately female, people of color, and adults over the age of 25. Many of them also live at or near the poverty line, according to OxFam America. Additionally, more than 1.1 million Georgia children live in households supported by low-wage workers earning under $15 per hour.
  3. To earn a living wage—defined as the hourly rate that an individual working full-time must earn to support themselves and their family—in Georgia, a single parent of one child must earn $24.64 per hour, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator. If the person is married with two children, but is the sole source of income, they must earn $26.33 per hour. Even if both parents work and have two children, they would each need to earn $15.60 per hour—roughly in line with Biden’s proposal and more than twice the current federal minimum rate—to make a living wage that supports themselves and their children.
  4. A minimum wage worker in Georgia would currently have to work 105 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom rental home at fair market value, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Out of Reach 2020 Report. To afford a one-bedroom rental, they’d have to work 91 hours per week.  
  1. A 2016 Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll of Georgia voters found that 55% support raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Nationally, that figure sits at 67%, according to the Pew Research Center.