caravans of fast food workers circling McDonald's in demands for an increase in minimum wage
A caravan of fast food workers circle a McDonald's restaurant as they demonstrate for higher wages, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Workers in 15 cities demonstrated to demand $15/hr from corporations like McDonald's and to challenge President-elect Joe Biden's administration to raise the Federal Minimum Wage to $15/hr in his First 100 Days. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The bill would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. It could help close wage gaps and reduce infant mortalities, a new study says.

Democrats reintroduced a bill Tuesday that would more than double the federal minimum wage by 2025. According to a new study from researchers at Syracuse University, raising the minimum could reduce the infant mortality rate.

The House initially passed the Raise the Wage Act to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour in 2019. The bill didn’t pass the Republican-controlled Senate. A recently released study published in the journal Preventive Medicine supports the potential positive health effects an increased minimum wage would have on infant mortality rates, an indicator of economic development.

The study found that each additional dollar of minimum wage paid in major US cities lowers the number of infant deaths by up to 1.8 percent annually. Researchers used data collected from 2001 to 2018 on infant deaths in each county from the National Center for Health Statistics mortality files and data on minimum wage levels from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to calculate their findings. The researchers looked at metropolitan areas with more than 250,000 residents. They relied on previous studies that showed consistent correlations between higher minimum wages and lower financial stress, less maternal smoking, and reductions in teenage pregnancy, low-weight births, and infant deaths by increasing access to maternal health care. The correlation: Raising the minimum wage lifts the quality of life for struggling American families.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the legislation would help close racial and gender wage gaps and inject $107 billion in higher wages into the economy, spurring job growth. Black Americans and Latinos are paid 10%–15% less than white peers with the same education and experience level. And because Black and brown workers make up a disproportionate share of those making the lowest pay, nearly one-third (31%) of Black Americans and one-quarter (26%) of Latinos would see a raise if Congress increased the federal minimum wage to $15. Almost a quarter (23%) of the beneficiaries would be Black or Latina women. 

Raising the minimum wage also reduces teen pregnancies and adverse circumstances such as low-weight births. 

However, a growing number of states are preventing their local governments from raising the minimum wage, and human cost is steep. The 25 states that blocked minimum wage increases saw more than 600 infant deaths annually that could have been prevented with a minimum wage increase to $9.99.

Although Democrats have the support of labor organizations behind them, they face uphill opposition from the business lobby and Republican peers. Currently, even if every Democrat voted in favor, at least 10 Senate Republicans would have to cross over to get the measure in front of President Joe Biden. Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of the lead sponsors and chair of the Budget Committee, has intimated he could use budget reconciliation, allowing the bill to pass with a simple majority, to push the bill through.

“If we cannot get enough Republicans to vote for this legislation under regular order, we cannot simply take no for an answer,” Sanders said on a media call. 

It’s unclear if this will pass muster under the Senate’s Byrd Rule, which strictly limits how changes to federal spending or revenue can be enacted. Sanders insists he is on “very safe grounds” regarding the rule, citing taxpayer savings and the deficit reduction that raising the wage would yield by lifting workers out of poverty.

“Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will mean that a whole lot of workers now who are receiving one form of public assistance or another will no longer have to be in that position, which means it will have a very positive impact on the federal deficit,” Sanders said

Freshmen Democratic senators Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia, as well as Colorado’s John Hickenlooper and New Mexico’s Ben Ray Luján, have all publicly supported raising the federal wage level. Other Democrat lawmakers facing pitched reelection races have been less enthusiastic. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Mark Kelly of Arizona, and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire did not sign onto the Senate version of the act Tuesday.

“We’re in the midst of an economic crisis, and we want our nation’s leaders to reckon with it and fix it, and a $15 minimum wage would lift up tens of millions of working families,” Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union, told Politico. She said of the reluctant Democrats, “If they want to be reelected in ’22, the best thing they can do is vote to increase… the minimum wage.”

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