Should U.S. minimum wage be raised to $15?

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Speed read

What's happening: Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed a bill to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by October 2025. The proposal would more than double the current national minimum wage of $7.25. That rate hasn’t increased since 2009 — it’s the longest period without a raise since the minimum wage policy was established in 1938.

A $15 minimum wage would increase the pay of 27.3 million workers and lift 1.3 million people out of poverty, according to analysis by the Congressional Budget Office. It would, however, result in the loss of 1.3 million lower-paying jobs, the CBO found.

A total of 29 states have laws that set their minimum wage higher than the federal level. Several of those states — including California, New York and New Jersey — have enacted their own laws to achieve a $15 minimum wage in the next few years.

Why there's debate: Advocates for a $15 minimum wage argue that the current rate isn’t a living wage. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who introduced the legislation in the Senate, said $7.25 an hour is a “starvation wage.” Many argue that the relative value of the minimum wage has gone down because the modest increases of recent decades have not kept up with the spike in cost of living or inflation. Increasing the wage to $15 would “open up opportunities for working families and drive economic growth that lifts up all communities,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Opponents call a $15 minimum wage a “job killer.” They say businesses will cut their staff in order to afford the new higher wages. They also warn that the increased cost of labor will be passed on to consumers through higher prices.

Others argue that a one-size-fits-all policy for wages is a bad idea given the wildly different economic situations in individual states.

What’s next: The bill that passed the House appears to have no chance in the Republican-controlled Senate. But momentum for a $15 minimum wage has grown in recent years, polling suggests, thanks in part to a vocal campaign led by fast food workers. The majority of Democratic candidates for president — including frontrunners Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders — support the policy.


The increase would benefit the very workers who deserve it the most.

“Those who form the backbone of our economy deserve a living wage. More than 12 million workers in construction, manufacturing, education and health care would see a raise if the federal minimum is hiked. ...The increase would also boost pay for other essential workers in jobs where median pay is low — from child care and retail workers to bank tellers.” —

Greater labor costs would lead to fewer jobs and higher prices.

"If employers are compelled to pay workers more, they will be under pressure to reduce the number of people they have to pay or the hours those employees work. They may also raise prices to cover their higher costs. That, in turn, will reduce their sales, which may make some employees unnecessary." — Editorial, Chicago Tribune

The benefits would be seen across the U.S. economy.

“Higher minimum wages reduce employee turnover costs and increase worker productivity. They raise consumer demand by increasing the purchasing power of workers.” — Anna Godoey and Michael Reich, CNN

The minimum wage should go up, but $15 may not be the right amount.

“The challenge for lawmakers is to find the sweet spot, or the highest point to which base pay can be raised before employers reduce hours and trim staff enough to undercut the benefit of the minimum wage increase.” — Editorial, Los Angeles Times

Making workers cost more would derail the progress of people early in their careers.

“Blocking young people from gaining work experience and grabbing hold of the first rung of the career ladder would have a domino effect of bad consequences that would extend for years. Not only would individuals find navigating the labor market difficult without meaningful job experience, but businesses would be starved of qualified workers and the broader economy would suffer.” — Elaine Parker, Fox News

Leaving the minimum wage at the same level means allowing it to decrease in real value.

“When the minimum wage does not go up, it goes down in value relative to the cost of living.” — Holly Sklar, Detroit News

Increasing the minimum wage would help slow growing inequality.

“A more respectable minimum wage has never been more important, even if it is only a symbolic gesture toward the notion that something must be done to reduce a growing wage and wealth gap in the United States. The stock market has been booming, but because stock ownership is concentrated among richer people, it has increased economic inequality.” — Editorial, Chicago Sun-Times

A low minimum wage benefits people just starting their careers.

“A minimum wage is supposed to be an entry-level wage that applies to people who have little to no skills or experience. The lower that wage is, the more likely employers will be to risk hiring these workers, and the more quickly the workers will be able to accumulate skills and experience.” — Antony Davies and James R. Harrigan, Philadelphia Inquirer

Raising the minimum wage would literally save lives.

“A minimum wage increase would ... vastly improve the health of millions of Americans ― and as a physician, I am particularly intrigued by its potential to help my patients.” — Kunal Sindhu, MD, HuffPost

States that have increased wages have not seen the negatives opponents warn about.

“California, New York and Washington were among the first to start phasing in a $15 hourly rate, and their economies expanded with bigger boosts in personal income, job growth and consumer spending than the 21 states resisting anything above $7.25.” — Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg

A higher wage benefits businesses.

“Employers will be less likely to see costly worker turnovers when their staff receives something approaching a living wage. Maintaining experienced employees with institutional memories saves on training costs, lessens work errors, reduces paperwork and makes for safer and improved work atmosphere” — Jim Banholzer, Penn Live

The minimum wage should vary from state to state.

“The federal minimum wage is, indeed, overdue for an update. ...The smart way to do that, however, is by pegging it to local conditions and then having it automatically grow with inflation going forward — no politics needed.” — Editorial, Washington Post

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