Decades of infrequent and inadequate adjustment to the federal minimum wage have left today’s low-wage workers earning significantly less than their counterparts 50 years ago. Raising the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020 would lift wages for one-quarter of American workers and help restore the minimum wage’s role as a labor standard that ensures work is a means to escape poverty, according to EPI economic analyst David Cooper.
In Raising the Minimum Wage to $12 by 2020 Would Lift Wages for 35 Million American Workers, Cooper analyzes the impact of the Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Robert “Bobby” Scott’s (D-VA) Raise the Wage Act of 2015, which proposes raising the minimum wage to $12 by 2020 and gradually eliminating the subminimum wage for tipped workers.
“The minimum wage was established to make sure that regular employment would provide workers with the means to a decent quality of life. Lawmakers have let it erode for so long that today a parent working full-time at the minimum wage doesn’t earn enough to be above the poverty line,” said Cooper.
The majority of workers who would get a raise if the minimum wage is increased to $12 by 2020 do not fit the pervasive stereotype of the teenage minimum-wage worker working part-time jobs. In fact, there are more workers age 55 and older who would benefit from the increased minimum wage than teenagers. The average affected worker is 36 years old, and two-thirds of affected workers are 25 years old or older. The majority of affected workers work full time and more than one-quarter have children (27.7 percent). Over 17 million children—more than one-fifth of all children in the United States—stand to benefit from an increase in their parents’ pay.
Workers of color and women would disproportionately benefit from raising the minimum wage. One third of black and Hispanic workers would receive a raise if the minimum wage is raised to $12 by 2020. A majority of affected workers are women (56 percent), and, of the one-third of single parents that would receive higher pay, 40 percent are single moms.
“The average minimum wage worker is not a teenager working after school to earn some extra spending cash. The reality is that these are older workers who often have families to support,” Cooper said. “Raising the minimum wage, eliminating the lower minimum wage for tipped workers, and indexing the wage floor to median wages will improve the wellbeing of millions of workers and their families and will prevent low-wage workers from getting left behind again going forward.”
This report is part of EPI’s Raise America’s Pay project, a multiyear research and public education initiative to make wage growth an urgent national policy priority.