The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion It’s long past time to raise the minimum wage

Demonstrators gather in support of McDonald's workers as part of the Fight for $15 minimum-wage movement last month at a McDonald's in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP)

On Wednesday, Nevada became the most recent state to increase its minimum wage, when Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) signed legislation that would also begin the slow process of raising it from the current $7.25 an hour for workers receiving benefits and from $8.25 for those without benefits, beginning with an increase of 75 cents next year.

Hooray for Nevada. But the state’s action also highlights a bigger problem. If the national minimum wage is not raised by this Sunday — a highly unlikely event — it will mark the longest period between increases in the rate since Franklin Roosevelt first established a national floor on hourly wages during the Great Depression. The federal minimum wage will remain set at $7.25, the same as it was when the last change went into effect in July 2009.

This sad record can be fully laid at the door of the Republican Party. The Democratic Party is all-in on raising the national rate to $15 an hour, though disagreement remains over whether it should increase all over the country at the same rate, or if areas with a lower cost of living should get one rate and more expensive areas another rate. As for the Republicans? In some cases, they are actively embracing the extreme right-wing argument that a floor on hourly wages shouldn’t exist at all. Last year, Larry Kudlow, President Trump’s chief economist, called a federal minimum wage “a terrible idea” and said the administration would oppose any attempts to raise it.

This is extraordinarily terrible politics. A Hill-HarrisX poll this year found that only 5 percent of Americans believe the minimum hourly pay rate should be reduced or eliminated, while a majority believe it should increase to $15 an hour. The Republicans’ stance is also meanness for the sake of meanness. Business opposition to an increased minimum wage is fading away as the job market heats up. McDonald’s — a major target of the Fight for $15 movement — recently announced it would no longer support efforts by the National Restaurant Association to fight an increase. The CEO of Walmart says the minimum wage should go up, too.

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In fact, many employers are raising their starting pay, a combination of needing to pay more to attract workers as the unemployment rate continues to fall, public shaming and attempts to garner good publicity. Last year, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) all but forced Amazon into agreeing to raise its starting pay to $15 an hour last year, after calling out the company. (Disclosure: Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Post.) Target’s starting pay will rise to $15 next year. Bank of America announced it would raise its companywide minimum wage to $17 an hour, and increase it again to $20 by 2021.

This hasn’t deterred Republicans, who are now claiming that raising the minimum wage hurts small business at the expense of big companies. This is garbage reasoning. If a business owner truly can’t afford to pay workers more than a pittance, one might say it doesn’t possess a viable profit model. But in the United States, workers are expected to give endlessly to businesses, while the companies give little in the way back.

Since the minimum wage was last increased, it has lost almost 15 percent of its value. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage is lower than it was 50 years ago. At the same time, of course, the pay of CEOs is going up at extraordinary rates.

Not only is blocking minimum wage increases awful politics, it’s awful policy. The Economic Policy Institute this year estimated that if we increased the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, about 40 million workers would see a significant pay boost as a result. It’s not just people are the bottom of the wage scale who benefit. Employers often increase wages for many of their workers, in order to maintain a pay premium for more senior or experienced employees. Instead, we all subsidize low wages. A majority of people who aren’t officially disabled or elderly who receive SNAP benefits or Medicaid are in the workforce. A few years back, the Center for American Progress released a study showing that the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would save more than $4 billion annually if the minimum wage went up to $10.10. And a higher minimum wage leads to health-care gains, including a decrease in infant mortality and fewer child-neglect cases.

Nevada now joins the majority of states that now set their minimum pay scale at an hourly rate higher than the federal standard. It doesn’t need to be this way. The House is set to vote on a bill this summer that would bring the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, as well as eliminate the lower minimum wage for workers who receive tips. But even if it passes, it’s highly unlikely that the Republican-controlled Senate will do anything with it. That is a travesty.

Read more:

Paul Waldman: Why low-wage workers and members of Congress both deserve a raise

Paul Waldman: What Republicans don’t get about the minimum wage

Catherine Rampell: ‘Free lunches’ like the $15 minimum wage may hurt the people they’re meant to help

Charles Lane: We don’t need a one-size-fits-all federal minimum wage

The Post’s View: Congress should raise the federal minimum wage — the right way

Andy Puzder: A surging economy makes the Democratic campaign to raise the minimum wage superfluous