Since July 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has had a bill on his desk that would set forth a seven-year process of increasing the federal minimum wage.
The COVID-19 crisis continues illuminating systematic inequalities, including the gender and racial wage gap. As the pandemic ramped up, reports proliferated of people making more money on unemployment than from their actual jobs, thanks to the weekly $600 boost provided by the CARES Act.
Even before the pandemic hit, low-wage workers were not making a living wage, defined by economic experts at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as $16.54 per hour, or $68,808 per year, for a family of two working adults and two children.
Talks of increasing the federal minimum wage, however, have been delayed for over a year. The House passed the Raise the Wage Act on July 18, 2019, and sent the legislation to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk, where it currently remains. If signed into law, the act would “increase the federal minimum wage for regular employees over a seven-year period, for tipped employees, and for newly hired employees who are less than 20 years old,” according to the text of the bill.
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The Economic Policy Institute found that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would increase the wages of 33.5 million workers in the country. Nearly two-thirds of those workers are women, with nearly 20% of them being women of color. Raising the federal minimum wage has been touted as a method to close the many pay gaps that currently exist, paving the way to a more equitable society.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Adrianna Tavarez, 21, told COURIER, regarding the length of time the bill has languished in the Senate. Tavarez works as a student assistant in a physician assistant program in Poughkeepsie, New York, where the minimum wage is currently $11.80. Dutchess County, like other New York counties, has been steadily increasing its minimum wage. While they’ve been increasing at different rates, the state has progressed toward its goal of increasing the minimum wage until it reaches $15 an hour statewide.
“The job of our senators is to make those decisions—to determine if the pros outweigh the cons. Sen. McConnell not even giving them the opportunity to make the decision on their own is censoring them and not allowing them to determine what is best for the country and their states,” Tavarez continued.
Some members of Congress agree. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders stated in July 2019 that the majority leader shouldn’t “deny the rest of the Senate the opportunity to vote on the act.”
McConnell has made the argument that increasing the minimum wage would be a detriment to the economy and current jobs, but experts have determined the exact opposite. In a commentary for CNN Business, economists Anna Godoey and Michael Reich point out that “higher minimum wages do not have adverse effects on employment, or the weeks or hours worked among minimum wage workers.”
Nicolas Ramos, 20, is a student in Philadelphia, where the minimum wage is currently at the federal amount, $7.25 an hour. He works as a busser and runner at a restaurant in the city, which has the highest poverty rate among the 10 largest US cities.
“As a busser/runner, we get paid even less than minimum wage before tips, $4.50 an hour. This makes tipped workers solely dependent on customers’ tips; even minimum wage would be better than $4.50 an hour,” Ramos explained.
As the cost of living continues to increase, the federal minimum wage has stayed stagnant since 2009. The minimum wage has also lost 17% of its buying power in the 11 years since it was last set due to inflation. In other words, those working low-wage jobs are less likely to be able to provide a sustainable living each year that the minimum wage stays the same.
“For some people, their minimum wage job is the only source of income for them which is simply not enough,” Tavarez said. “For that reason, I think [raising the minimum wage] is a great thing.”