This Veterans Day, as America celebrates the courage and sacrifice of the millions who have served the country in the armed forces, we should recognize that many of these veterans are now working in low-wage jobs. Of the 9 million veterans in payroll jobs across the country, approximately 1.8 million would get a raise if Congress raised the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024, as was proposed earlier this year in the Raise the Wage Act of 2017. This means that despite their service to the country, the intensive training that they have received, and the access to additional education provided to veterans through the GI Bill, 1 out of every 5 veterans is still being paid so little that they stand to benefit from raising the minimum wage.
In April, we released an analysis of the Raise the Wage Act, which would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024 and slowly eliminate the lower subminimum wage for tipped workers. We estimated that roughly 41 million workers—both veterans and nonveterans—would get a raise as a result of such an increase.
The stereotype that only middle-class teens working after school would benefit from raising the minimum wage is false. Yet this stereotype breaks down even more dramatically when considering the veterans who stand to benefit from a higher minimum wage. Of the veterans who would get a raise, nearly two-thirds are age 40 or older, over 60 percent have some college experience, and nearly 70 percent work full time.
All workers deserve fair pay for their work. The fact that so many former servicemen and women would benefit from raising the minimum wage is a reminder that labor standards like the minimum wage protect all workers—even those whose courage, training, and sacrifice should guarantee them a good job. Unfortunately, Congress has let the federal minimum wage erode to the point where, adjusted for inflation, workers at the federal minimum wage are paid less today than during the Vietnam War. There is no reason why the federal minimum wage could not be significantly higher than it is today; Congress simply needs to act.