Raise the Minimum Wage

The COVID-19 pandemic is making us all reassess what is considered essential work, from health care providers to grocery workers and factory line workers. Yet, the federal minimum wage has remained $7.25 per hour since 2009, the longest period of time that the rate has stayed flat since its establishment in 1938. In response, 29 states and D.C. have set their minimum wages higher.1 Before the pandemic, Congress stalled on raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, which would have lifted pay for nearly more than 20 million workers in the 21 states where the minimum wage is still $7.25 and for nearly 13 million more in the 13 states where the minimum wage is less than $9.00.2 Since it was last raised, the minimum wage has lost 17 percent of its purchasing power just because of inflation.3 This means they have had less money to save over that time. Even worse in the face of this public health crisis, those that have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment insurance will replace wages that are lower than they should be.4 Forty-two percent of workers in the U.S. make less than $15 an hour, and women and people of color are overrepresented in this group. Further, more than half of Black workers are paid less than $15.5 If the federal government is not going to make a definitive statement on the value of work in light of this pandemic and the public health threat it represents, then state governments should raise their minimum wage or give local governments the freedom to raise their local wage floors.