As presidential candidates battle it out for their party’s nomination, they will talk about income inequality, jobs, and economic policy. They should also be talking about raising the minimum wage.
They can start by supporting the Pay Workers a Living Wage Act now in Congress, which would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, or roughly $15,000 a year (far below the $23,500 federal government’s poverty threshold for a family of four), to $15 an hour by 2019; it would also raise the tipped minimum wage to be in line with the new federal minimum wage. If enacted, this measure would help address the growing wage gap that exists in this country.
Over the past 40 years, the minimum wage has lost one-third of its purchasing power. If it had kept up with inflation since 1968, it would be $10.93 today. Raising it to $15 would provide much needed relief to more than 51 million Americans.
Such a move has broad public support. A poll in January by Hart Research found that 63 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and 82 percent support tying it to the rate of inflation. Already, several states and cities have chosen not to wait for Congress, and have raised their minimum wages. New York just increased its minimum wage to $15 an hour incrementally, but only for fast food workers.
A new minimum wage would have a sizable impact on public assistance programs throughout the nation. For example, the Center for American Progress estimates that raising the minimum wage to just $10.10 an hour would result in a 6 percent decrease in people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, saving taxpayers $46 billion over the next decade.
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley have come out in favor of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. But former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not come out in favor of the proposal, saying, “what you can do in LA or in New York may not work in other places.”
Of the multitude of Republicans running, only Dr. Ben Carson and former Senator Rick Santorum have come out in favor of a smaller increase in the minimum wage.
As the presidential primary season continues to unfold, it is important that Americans demand that candidates from both parties support a plan that will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. This is a life-changing difference for many millions of American families and will increase consumer demand and stimulate the economy.
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate and author of “Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015.’’