After eight years protests by low wage workers and unions, Congress will decide on the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

 Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) sponsored the Raise the Wage Act in 2019. The Democrats passed it in the House. The Senate did just the opposite. The Republican-majority in the Senate tabled Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vermont) companion bill in committee.

This time around, the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 is a part of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 would gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 over five years. Congress hasn’t increased the federal minimum wage in more than a decade. That’s the longest stretch since it was first established in 1938. It was raised under the Obama Administration to $7.25 per hour in 2009, and there it remains.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the $7.25 federal minimum wage was economically and morally indefensible. Now, the pandemic highlights the gross imbalance between the productivity of our nation’s workers and the wages they earn. Many of the essential workers have braved a public health crisis. They need to keep food on the table and care for our loved ones. Still they are not paid enough. They can not provide for themselves or their families. Today, a full-time worker cannot afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment in any county in the U.S.,” said Rep. Scott, the Act’s sponsor and Chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor.

“Around the country, Americans across the political spectrum have repeatedly supported raising the minimum wage The Raise the Wage Act is a critical step toward lifting hardworking people out of poverty, addressing income inequality, and building back a better economy where everyone can succeed,” Scott added in a Committee release.

                Raising the minimum wage would give 32 million Americans wage increases. Also one million would be lifted out of poverty, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report. The CBO also predicts job losses, initially, but investing in a green economy will add more jobs. Also, recent polls show 75% of Americans support raising the minimum wage.

Dems have the majority

               The Democrats have a narrow majority in the House and 50 percent of the Senate. A yes vote by Vice President Kamala Harris could see passage of Biden’s rescue plan. But two Democrats are on record joining Republicans opposing it on procedural grounds.

Biden doesn’t think the wage increase will pass.  He told CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell that Senate rules would prevent the increase from going forward. “My guess is it will not be in it,” he said. “I don’t think it is going to survive.”

Republicans intend to block the minimum wage increase. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise urged Republicans in an email to vote “no” on what his office called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “Payoff to Progressives Act.” According to news reports, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, introduced a nonbinding amendment that excludes a wage increase from the stimulus package.

Starvation Wages

“We need to end the crisis of starvation wages,” Senator Sanders recently told The New York Times. What most Democrats are not saying, though, is that the Act will not pass in the Senate if just one Democrat votes against it. Senator Joe Manchin, III (D-WV) is on record opposing the proposed wage increase. He told news reporters he prefers an $11 per hour wage hike.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), is the first democrat to win a U.S. Senate race in Arizona in 30 years. She opposes including the wage hike in the Biden’s COVID stimulus plan. The freshman senator told Politico, “The minimum wage provision is not appropriate for the reconciliation process. It is not a budget item. And it shouldn’t be in there.”

Manchin and Sinema are “conservative democrats.” They have often sided with Republican and opposed their own party. According to Five Thirty Eight, Manchin has voted in line with Trump 60.7% percent of the time and Sinema, 62.6%.

They both seem to oppose their fellow Democrats’ position when the vote is crucial, like the wage increase vote. However, they may get primaried when they are up for reelection in 2024. The No Excuses PAC, which helped Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to win, is starting a search for candidates to challenge incumbent Democrats they say are standing in the way of ambitious action to end the coronavirus pandemic and revive the economy.

U.S. senators and representatives make a minimum of $174,000 annually.

Why are some opposed to a $15 per hour minimum wage hike? Americans earning $7.25 per hour or $14,500 per year can barely make ends meet.  Increasing the minimum wage $15 per hour, would equal an annual income of $31,200. That is still not enough income to comfortably afford to buy a house. However, it may be enough for an individual to save some money for emergencies.  

The current minimum wage is as outdated as the 2020 Federal Poverty Level. Neither adjusts for inflation or the rising cost of basic needs.

The Federal Poverty Level (FPL) is a measurement of the minimum amount of annual income that is needed for individuals and families to pay for essentials, such as room and board, clothes, and transportation. According to FPL guidelines, an individual with an annual income of $12,760 is at 100% of the Federal Poverty Level. For two, it’s $17,240, for a family of three, $21,720, and family of four $26,200.

Looking at the numbers, how reasonable is it to think people can pay for essentials such as rent, clothes and transportation, let alone food? These measurements determine if an individual is eligible for federal benefits such as SNAP, SSI, and Disability Income.  

“Those who oppose raising the minimum wage will highlight its costs, both in terms of impact on the federal budget and potential job losses,” Rev. Dr. William Barber, II wrote in a February 21, Op-Ed published by Time Magazine.

Trillions of Dollars While We Fight for $15

“Trillions of stimulus dollars have further enriched corporations, many of which do not pay their workers a living wage. Putting more money in the hands of poor and low-income people would increase spending and stimulate the economy far more than investments used to shore up corporate profits. And any jobs lost in the market due to corporate cutbacks could be offset by other commitments to green jobs, infrastructure development and a federal jobs guarantee. Now is the time to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.”

This year, 25 states are raising their minimum wage. Louisiana has no state minimum wage and uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Tipped employees in Louisiana earn $2.13 per hour and depend on tips to make a viable living.

No matter what happens in Congress, the Fight for $15 will continue. The protesters are focusing on raising minimum pay for fast-food workers, home health aides, childcare teachers, airport workers, adjunct professors, sanitation workers, tipped workers and retail employees. Today, the protests are in more than 300 cities and 40 countries.                                                                                                                                                   

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