- President Biden reiterated his support for a $15 minimum wage on Tuesday.
- Some minimum-wage workers have been campaigning for the raise for years.
- Workers and economists say Biden isn’t just right on moral grounds — it’s good for the economy, too.
In a CNN town hall on Tuesday, President Joe Biden reiterated his support for a $15 federal minimum wage.
“We’re at $7.25 an hour. No one should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty,” he said.
Biden’s comments were welcomed by some minimum-wage workers and activists that Insider talked to, who said the raise isn’t just a moral imperative — it’s an economic one, too.
On that very same day, minimum-wage workers in 15 cities went on strike to demand a $15 minimum wage. The strike, held during Black History Month, focused on Black communities, but the fight for a higher minimum wage isn’t new: Fight for 15 has been advocating for a $15 minimum wage through direct actions since 2012.
Sylcoria Carroll, a McDonald’s worker who earns $8.50 an hour in Durham, North Carolina, works with Fight for 15 and went on strike Tuesday.
“President Biden is right: nobody who goes to work every day should still live in poverty,” she wrote in a statement to Insider. “Essential workers like me have been risking our lives during the pandemic to keep the country running, but we’re barely hanging on.”
And the $15 minimum wage may finally be in reach. Democrats — particularly Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — want to raise the minimum wage to $15 minimum either through reconciliation in the stimulus relief package or as a standalone bill. Senators such as Elizabeth Warren (D-Ma.) have continually signaled their support for the increase.
National Domestic Workers Alliance Executive Director Ai-jen Poo wrote in a statement to Insider that the raise is the “single most impactful policy the president can implement now to reduce the racial and gender wage gap and inequality in general.”
“The evidence is clear that minimum wage increases overwhelmingly benefit the low-wage workforce,” economist Ben Zipperer of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) wrote in an email to Insider.
The impact a $15 minimum wage would have on workers
As Insider previously reported, women — and particularly women of color — have been disproportionately impacted by the economic fallout of the pandemic and unemployment.
Jasmine Tucker, director of research at the National Women’s Law Center, told Insider that raising the minimum wage is one important way to bolster those impacted women. Poo said that the minimum wage increase would be a “game-changer.”
“If we are serious about relief and recovery at the scale of the crisis, we must address the low wages that put families on a razor’s edge,” Poo said.
Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, wrote in a statement to Insider that “including $15 in the American Rescue Plan is a moral imperative.”
As Insider’s Kate Taylor reported, even retail giants like McDonald’s and Walmart have backed down from fighting a $15 minimum wage. In fact, Walmart just announced it is giving pay raises to 425,000 associates, who will now make between $13 and $19 an hour. Its minimum starting wage will remain $11 an hour.
Concerns over the impact on jobs — and the delay in getting workers money
One concern over the proposed increase is the impact it could have on businesses and employment. In a poll of over 2,000 small business owners by CNBC and SurveyMonkey, one-third of owners reported that they would have to lay off workers if the federal minimum wage rose to this hourly rate.
And, in a recent report, the Congressional Budget Office found that while the raise would lift 900,000 Americans out of poverty, it could also result in the loss of 1.4 million jobs.
At the town hall, Biden said it was “not illegitimate” for small business owners to worry about an instant increase, but stressed the importance of a gradual increase. The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 — the current minimum wage legislation on the table — would see the minimum wage increase to $15 by 2025. By then, due to inflation, $15 may not be worth the same as it is today.
“President Biden campaigned on the promise of a $15 per hour minimum wage, and to hear him backpedal on that promise and propose a gradual increase over time is disheartening. We know that $15 an hour is the bare minimum of what workers need to survive,” Cynthia Murray, a Walmart worker for over 20 years and member leader with United for Respect, wrote in a statement to Insider.
During the October presidential debates, Biden said he supported a $15 minimum wage; he had also released a plan to that effect. At the time, his campaign did not give a timeline for implementing the raise, Insider’s Joseph Zeballos-Roig reported.
Murray said she often decides between buying groceries, going to the doctor, or paying electric bills. She added: “The working class needs a $15 minimum wage now, not later.”