The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation last Thursday that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, making it the first time in 10 years that there has been a required increase in wages for Americans.
The Raise the Wage Act is considered a huge victory for workers and labor groups, even though it is unlikely the bill would be passed by the Republican-controlled Senate.
The House passed the legislation with a 231-199 vote that would increase the minimum wage from the current rate of $7.25 to $15 an hour, more than double the current rate. This drastic increase would also call for the same minimum wage to be paid to tipped workers, which is now $2.13 an hour. This would mean an increase of entry-level wages for millions of American workers on average of about $15,000 a year for those who work 40 hours per week.
The fight for a $15 minimum wage began in 2012 when fast-food workers in New York protested and demanded the increase. The motion has been gaining momentum around the U.S., with large private-sector employers, cities, and states.
Seattle, San Francisco, California, Arkansas, Missouri, and New York state have already raised their minimum wage. In addition, over the past year employers like Amazon and Costco have raised their base wages to $15 an hour while other corporations like Target have committed to raising the wage to that level by the end of 2020.
Many Republicans and business groups, however, have concerns that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would be a detriment to the economy because it would force many businesses to hire fewer people and replace jobs with automation. In fact, several Republican lawmakers cited a report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office last week that estimated the increase will indeed boost wages for 17 million U.S. workers, but it would also cause 1.3 million workers to lose their jobs.
Even several moderate Democrats who represent districts carried by President Donald Trump are concerned about job losses. However, they were placated by an amendment to the bill that would require a study of the effects of the increase a few years in, leaving room to make adjustments if more jobs are lost than expected. If passed, the new rate increase would be phased in slowly over a six-year period, and increases could be put on hold indefinitely if the study reveals too much negative impact such as job losses.
U.S. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said he would not support the House’s minimum wage bill.
“We don’t need to lose jobs, we don’t have enough jobs now,” he told Fox Business Network. “This would depress the economy at a time of economic boom. We’re not going to be doing that in the Senate.”
Senator McConnell’s opposition to the bill makes it very unlikely to pass. However, Democratic presidential hopefuls are using the publicity to attract more working-class Americans with the promise of fixing the issue of growing economic inequality in the country.