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The progressive senator from Vermont, now chairing the Senate’s Budget Committee, said the Raise the Wage Act “can and must" by passed through a filibuster-proof procedural effort of budget reconciliation, which will need just 51 votes to pass.
The senator said: “Now is not the time for excuses. Now is not the time for more talk. Now is the time for action.”
US Rep Pramila Jayapal said it is a “moral imperative” to “immediately” raise the minimum wage.
Seven states and Washington DC – which encompass roughly one-third of American workers – have passed legislation to raise their minimum wages to $15. New York, California and Massachusetts became the first states to do so.
But $7.25 an hour remains the minimum wage in 21 others. Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Tennessee don’t have a state-set minimum wage, instead relying on the federal rate. Georgia and Wyoming have set their minimum to just $5.15, lower than the federal rate, which applies instead.
In 2019, the Congressional Budget Office reported that a $15 federal minimum wage would raise incomes for 27 million Americans. A wage hike would immediately lift 1.3 million Americans out of poverty.
The Economic Policy Institute reported that the minimum wage, if adjusted for inflation, should have exceeded $15 by 2020.
“Yet since the late 1960s, lawmakers have let the value of the minimum wage erode, allowing inflation to gradually reduce the buying power of a minimum wage income,” according to a 2019 report.
The gradual increases in the years that followed have been too small to meet the decline in wage value after 1968, when the minimum wage peaked at its inflation-adjusted terms, the organisation reported.
A $7.25 wage in 2018 was worth 14.8 per cent less than when it was last raised nearly 10 years earlier, after adjusting for inflation, and 28.6 per cent below its peak value in 1968, when the minimum wage was the equivalent of $10.15 in 2018 dollars, the report found.
“This decline in purchasing power means low-wage workers have to work longer hours now just to achieve the standard of living that was considered the bare minimum half a century ago,” according to the report.
The Raise the Wage Act would add $2.25 to the federal minimum very year through 2025.
“I think $15 an hour over a period of four years will improve life substantially for millions and millions of workers,” the senator said.
Asked whether he believes the senate has 50 affirmative votes plus a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris, Senator Sanders said: "I absolutely believe that we do."
During a campaign event in October to support a minimum wage increase, Ms Harris said that “raising the minimum wage is about the floor and not the ceiling.”
“There is this suggestion we’ve heard in certain circles – ‘if you extend this they won’t know what to do with the money,'" she said. “Because there is this ugly premise that people who are low income or poor choose to be that way, or don’t have the same ethics everyone else has, or are irresponsible. And this is part of what’s wrong with the way we have crafted economic policy when it comes to what is morally right on a global scale.”
President Joe Biden has signed an executive order to push for a $15 minimum wage for federal contract workers.