The Raise the Wage Act, Explained

The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009, even as the cost of living in the United States continues to rise. After years of sustained pressure, the workers and labor activists leading the Fight for $15 movement have won raises for 22 million workers nationwide through increases in the minimum wage at the local and state levels—but it’s time to do the same for everyone.

Early in the new Congress, Rep. Bobby Scott (VA-03) introduced H.R. 582, the Raise the Wage Act (RTWA), to do exactly that. But there’s a fight brewing in the Democratic caucus that threatens to derail this critical legislation. Read on to learn more, then call your member of Congress and tell them to support H.R. 582, the Raise the Wage Act, without any harmful amendments that would water it down.

What’s in the Raise the Wage Act?

The Raise the Wage Act would finally set us on a path to ensuring that all working people earn a living wage. The RTWA, which has over 200 cosponsors, would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, and then automatically increase it by the same percentage by which the median hourly wage increases every year after that. (The bill would also eliminate the subminimum wage for disabled, youth, and tipped workers, which can contribute to the problems of wage theft, and exacerbate the wage gaps that harm Black and women workers.) As a result, almost 40 million workers would see wage increases—and Black and Latino workers, as well as single moms and people close to poverty, would benefit in particular.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour has the support of a large majority of voters in battleground congressional districts (including white and non-white voters, and voters in cities, suburbs, and rural areas). But more importantly, it is an idea that will only become more urgent as the cost of living increases across the entire country. Right now, $15 an hour is barely enough for self-sufficiency in a lot of high-cost areas. But by 2024, $15 an hour will be the bare minimum a single adult with no children will be able to earn to attain a “secure yet modest” standard of living anywhere in the United States, according to the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator. If we fail to act, working families will only continue to fall further behind.

EPI has also built out a helpful visual to see how a $15 minimum wage would help workers in your Congressional district; you can check it out here to learn more!

So What Are House Democrats Fighting About?

Despite the moral urgency (and political wisdom) of enacting a national $15 minimum wage, a group of moderate House Democrats led by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) is trying to push for a separate bill that would create a “regional” minimum wage. Their argument is that the cost of living varies across the country by region, and, thus, so should the minimum wage.

A regional minimum wage is a bad idea for a few reasons.

The first and most obvious reason is that a national minimum wage isn’t much of a minimum if it isn’t national. 25 states have passed preemption laws that prevent local governments from setting minimum wages higher than the state minimum wage (including most Southern states). For people who live in those states, it’s likely that the only way they’ll ever see a wage increase is through a boost in the federal minimum wage—so if legislators allow the wage for their region to lag behind, they’ll only be hurting their own constituents.

The second is that, under a regional proposal, over 15 million fewer workers would get a raise compared to the Raise the Wage Act. This would have particularly negative implications for racial equity; where the Raise the Wage Act would give millions of workers of color significant raises, Rep. Sewell’s proposal would slash both the number of workers of color who would get raises (over 5 million fewer women of color alone would get raises under her proposal), and the size of the raises they would receive (among black workers, the average raise would be $1,700 lower than under the Raise the Wage Act).

Finally, a regional proposal would harm the exact regions of the country that it purports to help. According to the Economic Policy Institute, workers in “Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Idaho, Oklahoma, and West Virginia… would lose between $2,200 and $2,700 per year” compared to their raises under the Raise the Wage Act. Combined with the attacks being launched on Medicaid and public education in many of these states, a regional minimum wage will only make it harder for  low-wage workers and their families to get ahead.

You can help workers and their families by calling your MoC and telling them: support H.R. 582, the Raise the Wage Act, without any regional carve-outs!

Call Script

Hi, my name is [NAME] and I’m calling from [PART OF STATE]. I’m calling to ask [MoC] to support H.R. 582, the Raise the Wage Act, and to commit to rejecting any attempts to set different minimum wages for different regions of the country.

Even as the cost of living in the United States continues to increase, our federal minimum wage has lagged shamefully behind. It’s been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009, and it’s time to fix that. The Raise the Wage Act will raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, and guarantee that it will continue rising into the future to ensure that all working people will be economically secure.

A regional minimum wage would undermine these goals. It would undermine the very purpose of a federal minimum wage, with particularly negative impacts for workers of color, women, and workers in the South.

Will [MoC] commit to supporting H.R. 582, and voting against any attempt to enact different minimum wages for different regions?