House to pass $15 minimum wage; studies debunk GOP job loss claims
A number of localities have passed raises to their minimum wage, and now the fight is in Congress to boost the federal minimum, which hasn't moved in years. Here, Minneapolis city council candidate Ginger Jentzen, center, celebrates with other supporters of the $15 minimum wage increase after it was passed by City Council, June 30, 2017 in Minneapolis. | Elizabeth Flores / Star Tribune via AP

WASHINGTON—The Democratic-run U.S. House is expected to consider and pass, next week, probably on a party-line vote, legislation to raise the U.S. minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. If the hike makes it all the way through Congress, millions of low-wage workers would benefit.

But that’s a big “if.” Congressional Republicans are already screaming the increase would cost 3.7 million jobs, citing a non-partisan Congressional Budget Office report’s worst-case scenario.

The sponsor of the Raise The Wage Act (HR582), House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., did not predict what the GOP-run Senate would do, other than to say they would approve something “and then we could go to conference” negotiations on an increase.

“But it’s extremely popular, and people will notice who will campaign on it” next year, and who won’t, he added.

Organized labor strongly supports the minimum wage hike, which would be the first since the waning days of the GOP George W. Bush administration.

“Every time momentum builds for lifting wages, conservative ideologues say it will cost jobs. Every time they’ve been dead wrong,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. He estimated the hike would help 40 million workers. Scott put the figure at 27 million minimum-wage workers alone.

“Being consistently wrong and not caring about workers are the only two things conservative economists can be counted on for,” Trumka continued. “This is more of the same noise. They want subservient, scared workers whose suffering will expand their stock portfolios. Our country is finally poised to lift millions out of poverty and make our country work for the people who work. Let’s raise the wage, and we’ll prove the CBO wrong again.”

The U.S. minimum wage, $7.25 for regular workers, hasn’t risen in a decade. The minimum for tipped workers—restaurant servers, taxi drivers, airline porters, and others—is $2.13 hourly and hasn’t risen in a quarter of a century. Employers are supposed to make up the difference between that tipped wage figure and federal, or state and local, minimum wages. But they often cheat the workers and don’t do so.

The fast food giant McDonald’s pays so little to Kansas City worker Terrence Wise, a leader in his area’s “Fight for $15 and a union” campaign, that he has to work “two or three jobs and even then, it’s not enough to keep food on the table” for himself, his fiancée, and their three daughters.

His fiancée works, too, as a home health care aide—also one of the nation’s minimum wage jobs—but at times the family has had to sleep in their purple van out in the parking lot of the McDonald’s where Wise now toils.

“Those companies make billions of dollars, and a minimum wage increase would help millions of us,” Wise told the telephone press conference on the legislation. “It’s not a lot to ask of Congress to pay us enough to pay the rent, feed the kids, and take the girls out for ice cream on occasion.”

The CBO study says 1.3 million future jobs could be lost if the wage rose to $15 over the next six years, but Scott and Economic Policy Institute senior analyst Heidi Shierholz disputed that.

Shierholz and Scott said the most recent and most modern studies show increases in employment as low-paid workers earn more and plow their higher wages back into the economy, thus producing more jobs.

Shierholz also noted the newest studies have a new model of the economy which incorporates real conditions on the ground, where low-wage firms such as McDonald’s and Walmart have curbed or eliminated competition for workers. CBO didn’t do that, she said.

The newest academic study, from the University of California at Berkeley, published the day before CBO’s, outlined positive impacts from raising the wage. Economists Anna Godoey and Michael Reich went below the federal level to look at states and cities that have raised their minimums. Dozens, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle—and its suburb of Sea-Tac, the only one with a current $15 minimum—have done so.

“The results of our research show that we can raise pay to $15, even in low-cost states. The data show the minimum wage has positive effects, especially in areas where the highest proportion of workers received minimum wage increases,” said Godoey. “We also found reduced household and child poverty in such counties.”

The two found “no adverse effects on employment” weeks worked or weekly hours among workers with a high school degree or less. They also said the hikes did not hurt women and minority-group workers, who combine to make up the majority of minimum-wage workers in the U.S.

“These new findings considerably extend our knowledge of the effects of minimum wage increases in the lowest wage areas of the U.S.,” said Reich. “They suggest a $15 federal minimum wage by 2024 will have widespread positive effects for working women and men, kids and communities of color, without any causing job loss.”

An EPI study in February backs that up. It analyzed how many people would directly benefit from a minimum wage hike to $15—in other words how many minimum wage workers there are—by congressional district.

More than half the workers in two congressional districts, Nevada’s 1st (Las Vegas) and Arizona’s 7th (most of Phoenix and westwards, including Native American reservations) now earn the minimum wage of $7.25 hourly. Both are also heavily Hispanic.

Other districts where more than 40% of workers earn the federal minimum include Chicago’s majority-Hispanic 4th District, majority-black Detroit’s 13th District, five majority-minority districts in Houston and South Texas, down to the Mexican border—and the entire state of Mississippi.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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