If you’ve ever had a summer or after-school job, you probably know what it’s like to work for minimum wage. What if you could make more money per hour for the same job? Last Thursday, the House of Representatives voted 231-199 to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15.00 an hour. But will the rest of Congress approve? Here, Election Central takes a closer look.
Is it possible to survive on the current federal minimum wage? Democrats say no. In fact, working full time (forty hours per week) at minimum wage will earn you about $15,000 per year. And while you might be able to live on that amount by yourself, it’s about $10,000 below the poverty line for a family of four. Democrats also point out that the minimum wage hasn’t been raised in ten years, which is the longest lull since the government first established a minimum wage in 1938.
Furthermore, the measure especially stands to help women, particularly women of color, who make up the majority of minimum-wage workers. In other words, Democrats say, it’s time for a boost. And a recent study by the Congressional Budget Office backs them up: doubling the minimum wage by 2025 stands to pull about 1.3 million Americans out of poverty.
But Congressional Republicans, on the other hand, are opposed to the increase. They say that raising the federal minimum wage will have a negative impact on jobs, and are concerned about what doubling it will do to the economy as a whole. While it’s true that poorer people would make more money, these critics argue that rich people would make less. And raising the minimum wage would mean that companies can’t afford to pay as many workers, meaning that about 1.3 million people could possibly be out of a job.
Republicans also point out that raising the minimum wage across the board doesn’t account for different standards of living in different places (in other words, $15 per hour in New York City won’t stretch nearly as far as $15 per hour in, say, Des Moines, Iowa). Therefore, they argue, the decision should be left to the states.
Though the bill has passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, it’s unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, where majority leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) has said that he refuses to even consider it. It is important to remember is that whether or not this bill becomes law, states are free to enact a minimum wage that’s higher than the federal minimum; in fact, seven states have already voted to raise the minimum wage gradually to $15 per hour. While most Republicans have pledged to strike down the bill, some Democrats say that it doesn’t go far enough: in addition to $15 per hour, minimum wage workers also deserve a union in order to ensure fair working conditions.