Home Posts It's Been 12 Years Since Congress Increased The Federal Minimum Wage.
It's Been 12 Years Since Congress Increased The Federal Minimum Wage.
Minimum Wage

It's Been 12 Years Since Congress Increased The Federal Minimum Wage.


On Saturday, Congress will reach an embarrassment: a decade without a penny increase in the federal minimum wage.

The federal government's minimum wage remains $7.25 per hour, well below the national living wage; a worker earning that wage on a full-time basis would earn only $15,000 per year, barely enough to cover basic living expenses for a single person, let alone a family.

The federal minimum wage was last raised on July 24, 2009, seven months into then-President Barack Obama's first term, as part of a series of increases included in a war funding package passed two years earlier and signed by then-President George W. Bush.

Democrats have tried to raise the federal floor several times since then, only to be thwarted by Republicans in either the House or the Senate, or both. Over the course of a decade, Democrats have steadily raised their target wage, from $10.10 per hour to the current $15. A $15 minimum wage bill has already passed the Democrat-controlled House but has yet to overcome a GOP filibuster in the Senate.

For a full-time employee, $7.25 per hour equates to a yearly salary of only $15,000

Meanwhile, an increasing number of states, including some dominated politically by Republicans, have passed their own local increases, and today, 30 states and the District of Columbia have a more generous wage floor than the one set by Congress, while the federal minimum of $7.25 prevails in the other 20 states that do not mandate a higher one.

The union-backed Fight for $15 campaign held a series of protests on Tuesday to draw attention to the dubious anniversary, which is coming up on Saturday. The group released a statement attributed to Taiwanna Milligan, a worker at a McDonald's in Charleston, South Carolina, who said she was going on strike for one day to mark the occasion.

“My 14-year-old was in diapers the last time the minimum wage was raised in South Carolina,” Milligan explained.

South Carolina is one of only five states, all in the South, that do not have a state minimum wage, and it is also one of only a few states where Republicans have passed preemption laws prohibiting local increases passed by cities or counties.

As a result, any additional funds to assist Milligan would almost certainly have to come from Congress and the White House.

Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) have proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $10 over five years while requiring employers to use e-Verify to crack down on undocumented workers.

Top Democrats have slammed the proposal for both the lower wage target and the e-Verify requirement, though Romney previously stated that he was working on a bipartisan agreement with Arizona centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D).

Democrats' latest proposal would raise the minimum wage to $15 over five years and eliminate the so-called tipped minimum wage in seven. Employers can currently pay as little as $2.13 per hour for tipped workers as long as gratuities bring the total to at least $7.25.

Democrats have a 50-50 Senate majority, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting a tie-breaking vote, but it is not a large enough majority to overcome the Senate filibuster's 60-vote threshold. Democrats had hoped to pass a minimum wage increase on a party-line vote through a process known as budget reconciliation, but they have been unsuccessful so far.

So far, they have encountered two roadblocks to that plan: a determination by the Senate parliamentarian that a minimum wage increase does not comply with reconciliation rules, and a lack of support for $15 within their own caucus. Some moderates have yet to sign on to the increase, citing concerns that it will be too harsh on business owners.

In March, eight Democratic senators voted against including a $15 minimum wage increase in a coronavirus relief package, including Sinema, who went viral for her thumbs down vote on the Senate floor.

President Joe Biden has stated that he wants to sign a $15 minimum wage bill and has already taken steps to increase the wage floor on his own, albeit in a limited way. Shortly after taking office, Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to implement a $15 wage floor for workers employed under federal contracts.

The Labor Department issued a proposed rule on Wednesday that would achieve that goal. Rather than a gradual phase-in, the measure would require companies under new federal contracts to pay at least $15 per hour beginning Jan. 30, 2022, with future increases tied to an inflation index, so that the wage floor would be adjusted according to the cost of living, and the tipped minimum wage would be adjusted according to the cost of living.

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In a statement, Jessica Looman, acting administrator of the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division, said the increase would "uphold the dignity of work" and ensure that the federal government does not underwrite jobs that pay poverty wages.

The new wage floor would apply to employees working in concessions, maintenance, construction, and other fields in federal buildings and on federal lands, and it would be implemented later this year after a period of public comment.

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