Why the U.S. needs a $15 minimum wage: How the Raise the Wage Act would benefit U.S. workers and their families | Economic Policy Institute

I’ve had my say on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour within four years. I thought it only fair to present the view of the progressive world … where only the positive is thought about and there are no negative consequences while data from neutral sources are ignored…. he said sarcastically🥱

The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 and narrow racial and gender pay gaps. Here is what the Act would do:

  • Raise the federal minimum wage to $9.50 this year and increase it in steps until it reaches $15 an hour in 2025.2
  • After 2025, adjust the minimum wage each year to keep pace with growth in the median wage, a measure of wages for typical workers.
  • Phase out the egregious subminimum wage for tipped workers, which has been frozen at a meager $2.13 since 1991.3
  • Sunset unacceptable subminimum wages for workers with disabilities employed in sheltered workshops and for workers under age 20.

The benefits of gradually phasing in a $15 minimum wage by 2025 would be far-reaching, lifting pay for tens of millions of workers and helping reverse decades of growing pay inequality.

The Raise the Wage Act would have the following benefits:4

  • Gradually raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025 would lift pay for nearly 32 million workers—21% of the U.S. workforce.
  • Affected workers who work year round would earn an extra $3,300 a year—enough to make a tremendous difference in the life of a cashier, home health aide, or fast-food worker who today struggles to get by on less than $25,000 a year.
  • A majority (59%) of workers whose total family income is below the poverty line would receive a pay increase if the minimum wage were raised to $15 by 2025.
  • A $15 minimum wage would begin to reverse decades of growing pay inequality between the most underpaid workers and workers receiving close to the median wage, particularly along gender and racial lines. For example, minimum wage increases in the late 1960s explained 20% of the decrease in the Black–white earnings gap in the years that followed, whereas failures to adequately increase the minimum wage after 1979 account for almost half of the increase in inequality between women at the middle and bottom of the wage distribution.5
  • A $15 minimum wage by 2025 would generate $107 billion in higher wages for workers and would also benefit communities across the country. Because underpaid workers spend much of their extra earnings, this injection of wages will help stimulate the economy and spur greater business activity and job growth.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 will be particularly significant for workers of color and would help narrow the racial pay gap.

  • Nearly one-third (31%) of African Americans and one-quarter (26%) of Latinos would get a raise if the federal minimum wage were increased to $15.6
  • Almost one in four (23%) of those who would benefit is a Black or Latina woman.
  • African Americans and Latinos are paid 10%–15% less than white workers with the same characteristics, so The Raise the Wage Act will deliver the largest benefits to Black and Latino workers: about $3,500 annually for a year-round worker.7
  • Minimum wage increases in the 1960s Civil Rights Era significantly reduced Black–white earnings inequality and are responsible for more than 20% of the overall reduction in later years.8

The majority of workers who would benefit are adult women—many of whom have attended college and many of whom have children.

  • More than half (51%) of workers who would benefit are adults between the ages of 25 and 54; only one in 10 is a teenager.
  • Nearly six in 10 (59%) are women.
  • More than half (54%) work full time.
  • More than four in 10 (43%) have some college experience.
  • More than a quarter (28%) have children.

The Raise the Wage Act follows the lead of the growing number of states and cities that have adopted significant minimum wage increases in recent years, thanks to the ‘Fight for $15 and a union’ movement led by Black workers and workers of color.

  • Since the Fight for $15 was launched by striking fast-food workers in 2012,9 states representing approximately 40% of the U.S. workforce—California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and the District of Columbia—have approved raising their minimum wages to $15 an hour.10
  • Additional states—including Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Vermont, Missouri, Michigan, and Maine—have approved minimum wages ranging from $12 to $14.75 an hour.11

Not just on the coasts, but all across the country, workers need at least $15 an hour today.

  • Today, in all areas across the United States, a single adult without children needs at least $31,200—what a full-time worker making $15 an hour earns annually—to achieve a modest but adequate standard of living.12 By 2025, workers in these areas and those with children will need even more, according to projections based on the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator.13
  • For example, in rural Missouri, a single adult without children will need $39,800 (more than $19 per hour for a full-time worker) by 2025 to cover typical rent, food, transportation, and other basic living costs.
  • In larger metro areas of the South and Southwest—where the majority of the Southern population live—a single adult without children will also need more than $15 an hour by 2025 to get by: $20.03 in Fort Worth, $21.12 in Phoenix, and $20.95 in Miami.
  • In more expensive regions of the country, a single adult without children will need far more than $15 an hour by 2025 to cover the basics: $28.70 in New York City, $24.06 in Los Angeles, and $23.94 in Washington, D.C.

Workers in many essential and front-line jobs struggle to get by on less than $15 an hour today and would benefit from a $15 minimum wage.

  • Essential and front-line workers make up a majority (60%) of those who would benefit from a $15 minimum wage.14 The median pay is well under $15 an hour for many essential and front-line jobs; examples include substitute teachers ($13.84), nursing assistants ($14.26), and home health aides($12.15).15
  • More than one-third (35%) of those working in residential or nursing care facilities would see their pay increase, in addition to home health aides and other health care support workers.
  • One in three retail-sector workers (36%) would get a raise, including 42% of workers in grocery stores.
  • More than four in 10 (43% of) janitors, housekeepers, and other cleaning workers would benefit.
  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) of servers, cooks, and other food preparation workers would see their earnings rise by $5,800 on a year-round basis.
  • Ten million workers in health care, education, construction, and manufacturing would see a raise—representing nearly one-third (31%) of the workers who would see a raise.

Phasing out the egregiously low $2.13 minimum wage for tipped workers would lift pay, provide stable paychecks, and reduce poverty for millions of tipped workers.

  • There are 1.3 million tipped workers throughout the country who are paid as little as $2.13 per hourbecause Congress has not lifted the federal tipped wage in 30 years. Another 1.8 million tipped workers receive wages above $2.13, but still less than their state’s regular minimum wage.16
  • Seven states (Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) have already eliminated their lower tipped minimum wage. In these “one-fair-wage” states, tipped workers in these states are paid the same minimum wage as everyone else before tips.17 For restaurant servers and bartenders, take-home pay in one-fair-wage states is 21% higher, on average, than in $2.13 states.
  • Having a lower minimum wage for tipped jobs results in dramatically higher poverty rates for tipped workers. In states that use the federal $2.13 tipped minimum wage, the poverty rate among servers and bartenders is 13.3%—5.6 percentage points higher than the 7.7% poverty rate among servers and bartenders in one-fair-wage states.18
  • Eliminating the lower tipped minimum wage has not harmed growth in the restaurant industry or tipped jobs. From 2011 to 2019, one-fair-wage states had stronger restaurant growth than states that had a lower tipped minimum wage—both in the number of full-service restaurants (17.5% versus 11.1%) and in full-service restaurant employment (23.8% versus 18.7%).19

Growing numbers of business owners and organizations have backed a $15 minimum wage.

  • In states that have already approved $15 minimum wages, business organizations representing thousands of small businesses have endorsed a $15 minimum wage.
  • Business groups that have endorsed a $15 minimum wage include Business for a Fair Minimum Wage,20the American Sustainable Business Council,21 the Patriotic Millionaires,22 the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce,23 the Long Island African American Chamber of Commerce,24 and others.
  • Growing numbers of employers have responded to pressure from workers and raised their starting pay scales to $15 or higher. These include retail giants Amazon,25 Whole Foods26 (owned by Amazon), Target,27 Walmart,28 Wayfair,29 Costco,30 Hobby Lobby,31 and Best Buy;32 employers in the food service and producing industries, such as Chobani,33 Starbucks,34 Sanderson Farms (Mississippi),35and the Atlanta-area locations of Lidl grocery stores;36 health care employers including Michigan’s Henry Ford Health System37 and Trinity Health System,38 Ohio’s Akron Children’s Hospital39 and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center,40 Iowa’s Mercy Medical Center and MercyCare Community Physicians,41 Missouri’s North Kansas City Hospital and Meritas Health,42 and Maryland’s LifeBridge Health;43 insurers and banks such as Amalgamated Bank,44 Allstate,45 Wells Fargo,46 and Franklin Savings Bank in New Hampshire47; and tech and communications leaders such as Facebook48 and Charter Communications.49

Our economy can more than afford a $15 minimum wage.

  • Workers earning the current federal minimum wage are paid less per hour in real dollars than their counterparts were paid 50 years ago.50
  • Businesses can afford to pay the most underpaid worker in the U.S. today substantially more than what her counterpart was paid half a century ago.51
  • The economy has grown dramatically over the past 50 years, and workers are producing more from each hour of work, with productivity nearly doubling since the late 1960s. If the minimum wage had been raised at the same pace as productivity growth since the late 1960s, it would be over $20 an hour today.52

Research confirms what workers know: Raising wages benefits us all.

  • High-quality academic scholarship confirms that modest increases in the minimum wage have not led to detectable job losses.53
  • After the federal minimum wage was raised to its highest historical peak in 1968, wages grew and racial earnings gaps closed without constricting employment opportunities for underpaid workers overall.54
  • Comprehensive research on 138 state-level minimum wage increases shows that all underpaid workers benefit from minimum wage increases, not just teenagers or restaurant workers.55
  • Multiple studies conclude that total annual incomes of families at the bottom of the income distribution rise significantly after a minimum wage increase.56 Workers in low-wage jobs and their families benefit the most from these income increases, reducing poverty and income inequality.
  • By providing families with higher incomes, minimum wage increases have improved infant health and also reduced child abuse and teenage pregnancy.57

An immediate increase in the minimum wage is necessary for the health of our economy.

  • Raising the minimum wage now will tilt the playing field back toward workers who have dangerous jobs and little bargaining power during the pandemic.58
  • Providing underpaid workers with more money will directly counter the consumer demand shortfall during this recession.59
  • Even the Congressional Budget Office’s 2019 study of the impact of raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025 clearly showed that the policy would raise incomes of underpaid workers overall and significantly reduce the number of families in poverty.60

Low wages threaten the economic security of workers and their families, who then turn to social benefits programs to make ends meet.

  • In states without laws to raise the minimum wage to $15, nearly half (47%, or 10.5 million) of families of workers who would benefit from the Act rely on public supports programs in part because they do not earn enough at work.61
  • These workers and their families account for nearly one-third of total enrollment in one or more public supports programs.62
  • In states without a $15 minimum wage law, public supports programs for underpaid workers and their families make up 42% of total spending on Medicaid and CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program), cash assistance (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF), food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), and the earned income tax credit (EITC), and cost federal and state taxpayers more than $107 billion a year.63


Source: Why the U.S. needs a $15 minimum wage: How the Raise the Wage Act would benefit U.S. workers and their families | Economic Policy Institute


  1. ” Companies either raise prices or lay off workers.” No, this not an inevitable consequence of raising the minimum wage. The increase in economic activity will increase the sales of companies and hence their profits. I’ve noticed that this is a systematic flaw in your thinking.


    1. Really, like restaurants and health care? The potential increase in economic activity/demand will also raise prices. Exactly what do you think MW workers will spend their additional net income on that will do that? We are told on housing, food and other necessities. In theory they should have nothing left to stimulate anything.


      1. “In theory they should have nothing left to stimulate anything.”

        What theory is that?


  2. I am for raising the minimum wage to some level, although in my opinion $15 is too high. Whatever the new minimum wage will be, indexing raises to inflation would be a big mistake. Let me explain.

    The mostly commonly used indicator is the CPI from BLS (or the Consumer Price Index from United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.) The government plays with different forms of the CPI to suit their needs such as CPI-W is used to determine Social Security COLAs.

    The important thing is that the CPI is a lagging indicator. That is, it tells us what the inflation was compared to some time period in the past. For example, the current rate of inflation for the past 12 months is 1.4%. One can assume if the world was in a stable steady state, that the next 12 months will have an inflation rate of about 1.4%. World events such as weather, politics, war, pandemics, even labor strikes can upset the inflation rate. In a month or two you might notice price increases or decreases at the supermarket, but it may take up to 12 months for those events to be reflected in the official inflation rate which will set the next minimum wage increase.

    So, what happens after everybody gets their first raise from $8 to $9 /hr.? Companies either raise prices or lay off workers. The cycle repeats itself until $15 / hr is reached. Now everybody who was making above minimum wage but less than $15 also gets pay raises otherwise they would be working below minimum wage.
    What happens to that skilled worker who is currently making $21 /hr? His skill was of such value that he was being paid 3x the minimum wage. Is he going to get a raise to maintain the wage difference worth 3x times minimum wage? Do you think that he will automatically get paid $45 /hr? What happens when due to inflation that the minimum wage finally reaches $21 / hr? Do skill workers just say why bother spending years learning a skill or a job and just become another minimum wage worker bee? Companies might have to pay $63/hr to get skill workers. We all know that this will not happen and cannot be allow to happen even over a period of 10-20 years. It would be disastrous.

    All this time, as wages rise, the cost of doing business rises, and twelve months later, the CPI will rise resulting in a higher inflation rate. Since the minimum wage is index to inflation, wages will rise and thus so will inflation. It will be a never-ending cycle.

    It is also important to note, that even if all the nay-sayers say that this won’t happen, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee has had a target goal of 2% inflation for a healthy economy for decades. So, there will be inflation. The Feds require it. Deflation is worse than inflation so they must prevent deflation.

    Now what happens if world events cause 4% inflation? The following year, minimum wage will be increased to comply with whatever the required amount is as it will be index to inflation. The result will be to continue to cause inflation.

    Again, for the nay-sayers, in NJ you are not allowed to pump your own gas. I looked at it this way, someone has to collect the money, they need a job, they can pump my gas. On January 1st, when NJ raised its minimum wage from $11 to $12, the large Wawa gas stations with 16-20 pumps raise gas by $0.10 / gal. Why? Labor costs. They have several cashiers and several gas pump attendants in addition to the deli workers. The small 4 pump gas stations stayed the same price because they were already priced for one or two workers.

    Currently, some jobs are coming back to America because of politics and costs. But if US wages are significantly higher than the rest of the world; we will lose those jobs again. There are places in the world that will work for $15 / day and they will get those jobs. Sooner or later, labor costs in the US will be more than the cost of shipping goods from around the world back to the US.

    The labor supply should dictate the minimum wage. Instead, millions of illegals have flooded the US labor market and have kept the wages low by keeping the number of unskilled workers high. They are also willing to work for low wages which in the current labor market kept the minimum wage low. Their low wages are probably much higher than wages from where they left.


  3. Raising wages decreases company profits which result in the cost of goods/ labor to increase and passed on to consumers.


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