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Sanders’ push for minimum wage hike faces political obstacles

Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 2:31 PM EST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The country’s lowest paid workers will be due for substantial raises if Democratic leaders get the coronavirus relief bill they want.

Lawmakers have not raised the federal minimum wage in 12 years and Democrats want to double it by the time President Joe Biden’s term ends. But, there’s no guarantee they’ll have the votes.

Elaine Ball works two jobs, logging about 40 hours a week and making about 15 dollars an hour. But, she’s still trying to get out from under the debt she racked up working fewer hours at Vermont’s minimum wage.

“It’s very, very expensive to be poor,” she said, “the year that I submitted 14 W-2s, my income was under $15,000, and so these were part-time jobs that were barely paying anything.”

Ball said most of her income went to keeping a roof over her head. Power, car, and phone bills could never be paid in full; late fees piled up. She said she could not even consider paying off less essential bills like college loan debt.

“My credit is tanked,” she noted.

The federal minimum wage -- $7.25 an hour -- hasn’t kept up with inflation. At its peak value in 1968, it was equivalent to a little more than $12 an hour today.

President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) want to ramp it up to $15 by 2025.

Sanders’ Raise the Wage Act would bump the minimum wage to $9.50 by June, 2021, $11.00 by 2022, $12.50 by 2023, $14 by 2024, and $15.00 by 2025. Beyond 2025, the minimum wage would rise automatically based on a formula accounting for inflation and cost of living.

“The time is long overdue,” Sanders said in a recent interview. He noted that he travelled all over the country in his campaigns for the presidency. Everywhere he went workers said trying to get by on minimum wage simply is not possible.

Thursday, the Budget committee -- which Sanders presides over as chairman -- heard from workers and CEOs. Sanders argued that ‘starvation’ wages paid by giant, profitable corporations like Walmart essentially force taxpayers to pickup the bill to house and feed the companies workers.

Not testifying Thursday, Congress’ own non-partisan budget analysts. Their recent report found a $15 minimum wage would benefit one-in-ten workers and lift nearly a million out of poverty.

But, they also determined it could cost the county up to 1.4 million jobs.

“During the COVID crisis, the last thing the federal government should be doing is doubling the cost of doing business”, said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) at the hearing. Graham did say he’s open to raising the minimum wage once the pandemic is over, and if lawmakers can ensure that small businesses are not overly-burdened.

Two major hurdles could block Democrats from securing a higher minimum wage. Senate rules will not allow them to pass it with a simple majority if it’s ruled ineligible as a tack-on to the coronavirus relief package the party hopes to pass by mid-March.

And, at least three Democratic senators argue $15 an hour is too high of a floor for the minimum wage. So leaders will either need to hope holdouts like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) are willing to support the broader, coronavirus relief bill despite their minimum wage reservations, or win over at least a few Republicans.

Copyright 2021 Gray DC. All rights reserved.

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