EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Fifteen dollars an hour by 2025. It was the goal of the Raise the Wage Act of 2019, a bill passed by the House of Representatives that would boost the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for the first time in almost 10 years, the longest time that number has ever stayed stagnant. Although the bill was passed in July 2019, it has yet to be brought to a vote in the Senate, and has since fueled continuous debate over whether minimum wages should be increased in the U.S. at all.
The controversy over raising the federal minimum wage was sparked by the inability for people to automatically adjust to the rising cost of living. Proponents of increasing the federal minimum wage, like EBHS Junior Veena Gonugondla, believe that the increase will help close “the gap between [the] lower and middle classes,” and stimulate the economy.
Others are more hesitant to support the Raise the Wage Act of 2019. The sharp pay increase, according to Vox, made many more moderate Congress members nervous. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it could actually trigger 1.3 million job losses for low-paid workers.
“If businesses increase wages, prices of goods will also increase, fueling inflation and unemployment,” Sophia Olakangil, an EBHS junior, agreed.
The federal minimum wage has a history tainted by political struggle and labor conflict. Since the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 determined that American workers are entitled to a certain amount of pay, the minimum wage has been raised 22 times by 12 different presidents.
However, what no one in Washington expected in 2019 was a worldwide pandemic to hit communities all over the nation in unimaginable ways. According to the University of Massachusetts Amherst Center for Employment Equity, the COVID-19 recession hit low-wage workers, those making less than $15 an hour, the hardest. This is because these marginalized workers lack adequate healthcare and do not have access to paid family leave.
As the U.S. economy continues to bounce back in the wake of the recession, things are starting to look up for these marginalized communities, with the GDP growth rate at 33.1 percent in the third quarter of 2020. Hope is on the horizon as more Americans are able to get back to work while still prioritizing the safety and health of American families.