The measure has little chance of being enacted by the GOP-led Senate, but will be widely touted by Democrats heading into the 2020 campaign season. The current federal minimum wage is less than half of that amount — it has been stalled at $7.25 since 2009. This month marked a record for the longest period without raising the minimum wage since it was enacted.
“America’s workers deserve a raise,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday ahead of the vote.
The legislation passed the chamber by a vote of 231-199, largely along partisan lines. Three Republicans voted in favor of the bill; six Democrats opposed it. The North Carolina delegation divided along partisan lines with all three Democrats voting “yes” and all ten Republicans voting “no.”
A $15-per-hour minimum wage stands to boost the pay of about 17 million workers nationwide, according to a recent report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Another 10 million workers otherwise earning slightly more than $15 per hour might see their wages rise as well, and the number of people with an annual income below the poverty line in 2025 would fall by 1.3 million, the report estimates.
“The Raise the Wage Act is not just good for workers, it’s good for the economy,” House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said on the House floor. Scott is the lead sponsor of the bill.
House Democrats say the measure would provide major benefits for workers back in their districts.
“No family in the United States can live on $7.25 an hour and make ends meet,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.). “In my home state of Wisconsin, you would have to work 93 hours a week in order to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment, and there’s not a single county in the country where a worker earning the minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom apartment on minimum wage.”
In rural areas, like those in Wisconsin, Pocan said, some workers have only a handful of employment options.
“If the primary employer in a rural town is a multi-billion dollar corporation like Walmart or McDonald’s, they can afford to pay their workers $15 an hour instead of holding down wages for the entire community.”
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) called her Orlando district a case in point for the need to boost the minimum wage. “It has a relatively high cost of living and the lowest median household income of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the country,” she said.
In Florida, the minimum wage is $8.46 per hour, slightly above the federal level. But still, Murphy said, “Workers in my district cannot be self-sufficient and support their families on this wage.”
House Republicans and other critics of the legislation have stressed the potential to strain small businesses and spur job losses.
The CBO analysis estimates that about 1.3 million workers — and possibly up to 3.7 million workers — could lose their jobs under a $15-per-hour minimum wage scenario. Still, CBO noted that there’s “considerable uncertainty” about how the minimum wage increase could impact employment. “Many studies have found little or no effect of minimum wages on employment, but many others have found substantial reductions in employment,” the report says.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), the top Republican on the Education and Labor Committee, called it a “radical, risky and unnecessary bill.” Boosting the federal minimum wage by 107%, she said, is a “harmful and unprecedented mandate.”
Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) called the legislation “misguided” and warned in a statement that it could make it harder for younger workers to get work experience. “Instead of government mandates, Washington should focus on pro-growth policies that strengthen small business job creation and reduce regulatory barriers that hinder innovation, opportunity, and economic expansion.”
In the Senate, Vermont senator and 2020 presidential contender Bernie Sanders has introduced a companion version of the House minimum wage bill. He’s got 31 Democratic co-sponsors, but the bill isn’t expected to see a vote under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Democrats on Capitol Hill are hoping the bill will give voters a glimpse of what’s possible if they elect a Democrat to the White House in 2020. Most of the Democrats vying for the nomination have endorsed the $15-per-hour minimum wage, Vox reported.
Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for the States Newsroom network, of which Policy Watch is a member.