Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday are expected to introduce new legislation that would bring the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024 after wage hikes took effect in 20 different states this year.
More than 100 Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors of House Committee on Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott's Raise the Wage Act of 2019, which aims to ensure all working Americans earn a living wage. It's expected to give roughly 40 million Americans a bump in pay, according to a press advisory. Once fully phased in, the average affected worker would see about a $3,500 increase in annual pay. Today, one in nine U.S. workers earn wages that leave them in poverty, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
"No person working full-time in America should be living in poverty," said Chairman Scott. "Raising the minimum wage is not only good for workers, it is good for businesses, and good for the economy. When we put money in the pockets of American workers, they will spend that money in their communities. This bill is a stimulus for Main Street America," he said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a companion bill in the Senate with 31 cosponsors. He laid out an argument on Twitter Monday for a hike in the federal minimum wage, which remains stuck at $7.25, where it has hovered since 2009.
"The federal minimum wage of $7.25 is a starvation wage. That is why I, along with many other members of Congress, will introduce legislation this week to raise that wage to $15 an hour. If you work 40 hours a week, you should not live in poverty," Sanders said.
A follow-up tweet read: "A job must lift workers out of poverty, not keep them in it. We must raise the federal minimum wage from a starvation wage of $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour. Doing so would directly increase the wages of more than 25 percent of the U.S. workforce."
Speaker Nancy Pelosi is also behind the bill.
"A $15 federal minimum wage affirms the bedrock idea of fairness in our country: that hard work deserves a decent wage. We will open up opportunities for working families and drive economic growth that lifts up all communities -- because our economy works best when it works for everyone, not just the wealthy and privileged few," she said.
Fast-food workers have been fighting for $15 an hour since 2012, when 200 McDonald's employees walked off the job in New York City. The Fight for $15 has become a global movement that's now active in more than 300 cities across six continents.
Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, the organization behind Fight for $15, called the prospective bill "a huge step forward in deciding to end poverty work in America."
She said recent minimum wage hikes across the country illustrate "the power of the idea that when you work hard for a living you ought to be able to lead a decent life and provide for your family."
She also touted the economic benefits of a minimum wage increase.
"Workers have more money to spend in communities spurred by economic activity and growth," she said. "Businesses are positively impacted by people having more money in their pockets."
Restaurant owners in some states have argued that wage hikes actually result in operators cutting jobs to offset increases in payroll.
"Should Congress drastically increase operating costs then these small businesses will be forced to hire fewer people, reduce hours, or even close their doors," Shannon Meade, Vice President of Public Policy and Workforce for the National Restaurant Association said in a statement.
Heidi Shierholz, senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute, concedes that while some restaurants might feel the pinch in the near term, a mandated federal minimum wage will, in the long run, benefit workers and businesses by putting money "into the hands of people who have no choice but to spent it" and generate economic activity.
She cited empirical evidence that shows minimum wage increases have increased wages without causing job loss.
"That doesn't mean there aren't businesses that don't have the right business practices that struggle in environments where they have higher wages," she said.
The Raise the Wage Act would also lift provisions that allow businesses to pay subminimum wage for tipped workers.
Minimum wage workers weighed in on the bill.
"100% of the people who make less than $15.00/hour want the federal minimum wage to be $15.00/hour," said Twitter user Sharon Fane.
The bill will likely be challenged in the GOP-controlled Senate. President Donald Trump's top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, opposes the idea of mandating any federal minimum wage.