CHN: Advocates Celebrate House Passage of $15 Minimum Wage Bill

Advocates celebrated the July 18 House passage of legislation to gradually raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 by 2025 and index it to inflation after that. The Raise the Wage Act (H.R. 582) would also phase out the outdated subminimum wage for tipped workers, which has been frozen at $2.13 since 1991, and sunset the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities and workers under age 20. The bill passed by a vote of 231-199; three Republicans supported the measure, while six Democrats and one Independent opposed it. CHN sent a letter to representatives before the vote urging them to support the bill.

A Republican effort opposed by advocates that would have substantially undermined the bill narrowly failed (210-218). The effort would have exempted employers with fewer than 10 employees or annual gross income of less than $1 million. Advocates warned that the amendment would exclude most business employers and would not only hurt low-wage workers but also hurt small businesses by incentivizing employees to not work for them. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said they would vote against the bill if this language was added.

One amendment, offered by Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), did pass (248-181). It would require the Government Accountability Office to submit a report to Congress on the economic and employment impacts of the wage increases in the bill, with the report to be prepared after the second wage increase and before the third wage increase. The amendment also requires Congress to assess the report’s findings and to take any appropriate legislative action, including action to delay or otherwise modify the next scheduled wage increases.

Analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that the bill would lift wages for more than 33 million workers – including more than 9.4 million parents and 6.2 million workers in poverty – and would boost annual earnings for the average affected year-round worker by $2,800. The Congressional Budget Office, Congress’s nonpartisan scorekeeper, estimated that the bill would lift 1.3 million people out of poverty, nearly half of them children.  CBO also estimated that there could be job loss if the $15 minimum wage were in effect (possibly 1.3 million people jobless in an average week in 2015, although they concede there is a good chance job loss could range from essentially zero up to 3.7 million).  EPI notes that the most credible evidence from areas where the minimum wage has been raised the highest, such as Seattle, does not show job loss.

Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project, one of the leads of the Raise the Wage campaign, said in a statement after the successful vote, “Today’s House vote for a $15 minimum wage reflects the will of the people: Raising the minimum wage is long overdue, and it’s popular with voters in every state, and across all demographics including political affiliation. We applaud the House for doing its job. Now there’s no other moral choice but for the Senate to take up the Raise the Wage Act and move it forward.” A statement from the National Women’s Law Center said in part, “This is an historic, bipartisan vote for millions of working people—especially for women, who are the majority of workers who will see bigger paychecks thanks to the Raise the Wage Act. … [A]l of us will benefit from an economy that values everyone’s work.” Deborah Weinstein, Executive Director of CHN, said, “Lifting low-income workers is the right and moral thing to do, pure and simple, and the Senate should take up the Raise the Wage Act for its consideration.”

A $15 minimum wage bill has been introduced in the Senate (S. 150) by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Whether or not the legislation will move in that chamber is uncertain.

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