Today, working people across the country, from fast food workers to adjunct professors, are striking and demonstrating in favor of a $15 minimum wage—the largest demonstration in the history of the Fight for $15 movement, which has invigorated the debate over raising the minimum wage and helped make a $15 minimum wage and a union the standard for people who care about an economy that works for everyone. EPI applauds this effort and urges Congress to listen to the American people and raise the minimum wage.
For some employers, policymakers, and even economists, $15 an hour sounds high. But against the backdrop of rising productivity and an increasingly educated workforce, it’s clear that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025 is a bold target but something the economy can afford. For decades, workers’ wages have been stagnant even as productivity has risen steadily. And indeed if the minimum wage had risen alongside productivity, it would be well over $15 today. The fact that it has languished at $7.25 is a reflection of deliberate policy choices to keep wages low—not the laws of economics.
We should not ask today’s low-wage workers to pay for years of policy choices made on behalf of the rich and powerful by saying that $15 an hour is “too high,” when throughout most of the country, it is barely enough to get by. A bold proposal such as $15 is needed to lift the earnings of the bottom third of the workforce, generate robust wage growth overall, and fuel economic growth.