What’s scarier than a shark attack? An increase in the minimum wage. At least that’s what many corporate media outlets seem to want you to believe, given the apocalyptic tone of much of the coverage of California’s recent decision to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $20 an hour, starting this April, a bump from the current level of $16. While outlets like the New York Times (10/23/23), the Associated Press (9/28/23), CalMatters (12/21/23, 9/28/23) and the Sacramento Bee (9/29/23, 9/15/23, 9/11/23) have responsibly covered the policy change, highlighting the large positive effects that it will likely have on workers, others are obsessively accentuating the negatives.
In 2023, the issue of child labor re-emerged as a national crisis. Federal data on the rise of child labor violations and numerous investigative reports of widespread illegal youth employment garnered sustained media attention, sparking outrage from the public and lawmakers alike. At the same time, EPI has documented an ongoing, coordinated effort to roll back existing child labor protections that is gaining momentum in states across the country. Legislative proposals to weaken child labor protections—some of which have already been enacted—allow employers to hire teens for more dangerous jobs or extend the hours young people can work on school nights.
The New Year blew in with higher wages for workers in dozens of jurisdictions across the country. Twenty-five states and 60 localities will raise their minimum wages in 2024. What is clear from even a cursory scan of these increases is that while a $15 minimum wage is the floor, many localities and some states have already passed wage increases that are higher than what the Fight for $15 movement coalesced around more than a decade ago. A number have landed on a $17 minimum wage for some or all employees, an encouraging development in the ongoing struggle to establish living wages nationwide.
After a decade on Seattle City Council, socialist Kshama Sawant is declining to seek reelection and will instead launch a new national coalition called Workers Strike Back this March in cities around the US. The goal of Workers Strike Back is to build an independent workers’ movement that fights for the interests of the working class, rather than the agenda of either corporate party. This coalition will organize for a $ 25 an hour minimum wage, build grassroots labor unions, fight for a clean energy transition, battle anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ legislation, and more.
California is the epicenter for a nationwide grassroots movement to raise the wage floor for American workers. On January 1st, the state set $15 an hour as the floor for large employers and $14 an hour for small ones (rising to $15 for all in 2023). Meanwhile, thirty-nine California cities and counties have established higher rates, with Emeryville the highest at $17.13 an hour and most well above $15. The Fight for Fifteen movement has reshaped public opinion, pushing local and state officials around the country to approve a $15 per hour minimum wage. Eleven states and fifty-four cities and counties have $15 minimum wage floors, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), and four in ten workers live in states on the pathway to a $15 minimum wage.
2022 marks 10 years since fast food workers in New York first went on strike to demand higher wages, better working conditions, and the right to unionize — sparking the Fight For $15 movement. Since that time, the movement has gained traction, with California raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour and several other states passing legislation that will gradually do so. As the ongoing global pandemic has drawn attention to the fact that the people who keep the country running are overworked and underpaid, workers have continued to strike for higher wages and union rights. In many cases, their demands are being met. Showing the tremendous strides made by Fight for $15, a record number of states and localities are raising their wages this year.
New data show that, as wages have risen across much of the economy, the average pay for restaurant and supermarket workers has risen above $15 an hour for the first time, reports The Washington Post. The milestone marks a win for both workers and, potentially, the Fight for $15 movement. Employers struggling to fill low-wage positions as businesses reopened over the past year have blamed their problem on a so-called worker shortage. But in reality, economists say, it’s more likely that there was a wage shortage as workers were unwilling to do a job that is more dangerous during the pandemic for the same wage as before COVID-19 was raging through the country. Now, it seems, employers are responding, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data analyzed by The Washington Post.
Women comprise the overwhelming majority of frontline workers who risk their lives and the lives of their families during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But the Democrats who they helped retake the White House and the Senate don’t seem so interested in rewarding that support. The proposal to set a $15 an hour minimum wage by 2025 in President Joe Biden’s signature $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan could have helped lift some 74 million poor and low-income women out of poverty, according to the Poor People’s Campaign. But eight Senate Democrats opposed the measure. Team Biden also declined to challenge arcane and non-binding parliamentary procedures, supposedly prohibiting a $15 minimum wage in the coronavirus relief package.
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) is essential to a robust and equitable recovery. The risk of doing too little is far greater than the risk of doing too much, and the American Rescue Plan meets the scale of the crisis. The overall size and components of the ARP have been carefully studied and considered. Given the balance of risks facing the economy and the danger of delay, passing the plan at its current scale and composition is the most prudent thing policymakers can do to ensure a rapid and fair recovery. Clearly, this is necessary. As the Senate debates what belongs in the final relief bill this week, policymakers must not shortchange aid to state and local governments, which is essential to a robust recovery.
On Thursday, US President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party effectively ended efforts to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour as part of the COVID-19 stimulus package making its way through Congress. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour has not been increased since 2009, and the dropping of the raise will leave millions of workers in utter destitution. The White House and congressional Democrats have falsely sought to present themselves as having their hands tied, holding up the advisory ruling of the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth McDonough, as an excuse. McDonough, an unelected official appointed to her role by the Democrats in 2012, ruled that the wage hike is not allowable in a bill using the budget reconciliation process.
Landing a job in the ’80s with a large corporation was, even for blue-collar workers, a ticket to good wages, generous benefits and a secure retirement. Women and workers of color did not share fully in this bounty, but they generally did better at big firms than small ones. All this began to unravel in the 1980s. Big business used the excuse of global competition to chip away at the living standards of the domestic workforce. Assault on unions, which were key in bringing about job improvements, proliferated. Meatpacking, for instance, what had been high wage and high-density union, turned into a bastion of precarious labor.
Capitalism’s “conservative” defenders yet again oppose raising the minimum wage. They fought raising it in the past much as they tried to prevent the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) that first mandated a U.S. minimum wage. The major argument opponents have used is this: setting or raising a minimum wage threatens small employers. They may collapse or else fire employees; either way, jobs are lost. What is conveniently assumed here is a necessary contradiction between minimum wages and small business jobs. That assumption enables opponents to claim that not setting a legal minimum wage, like not raising it, saves jobs. The system thus presents very poorly paid workers with this choice: low wages or no wages.
One month into his presidential career and Joe Biden has already left a trail of broken promises on progressive legislation. Yesterday, it was reported that the president held a closed-door meeting with a group of mayors and governors. At the first sign of pushback from Republicans in the room, he immediately dropped his support for the $15 minimum wage on the basis that he needed bipartisan support to pass it. Given that Democrats control the House, Senate, and the White House, this position seems surprising. “I really want this in there but it just doesn’t look like we can do it because of reconciliation,” the 78-year-old Delawarean said, according to those present. “Right now, we have to prepare for this not making it,” he added. As Politico noted, there was no further negotiation on the minimum wage after that; the topic was simply dropped.
As the small restaurant sector reels from the devastating economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, a report published Thursday by advocates for tipped workers and a $15 minimum wage revealed that phasing out subminimum wages for such workers—which can be as low as a little over $2 an hour—does not cause businesses to close. In fact, the report—published by the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley and One Fair Wage—found that the five states with the greatest rate of decline in open hospitality businesses during the pandemic are all states with a subminimum wage. That wage was set at $2.13 under a 1996 federal law resulting largely from lobbying by then-National Restaurant Association president Herman Cain.