Podcast Episode 1: Raising the Federal Minimum Wage

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May 27, 2021

Episode overview

In this first episode of the new Voices for Human Needs Podcast, we talk all about the work of activists fighting to raise the federal minimum wage. Featured speakers come from across the country, including policy advocate, Judy Conti, the Director of Government Affairs at the National Employment Law Project, Adam Orman, a leader with Good Work Austin and the co-owner of a neighborhood restaurant in Austin, Texas, L’Oca D’Oro, and Trupti Patel, a lead organizer at One Fair Wage in Washington D.C. Listeners will hear more about the history of the federal minimum, and subminimum wages, the top line impacts of the Raise the Wage Act, the disproportionate impacts of a low federal minimum wage on women workers and BIPOC workers, and what listeners can do to organize their communities on behalf of a raised federal minimum wage. Scroll down to listen. 

why raise the federal minimum wage?

Millions of our nation’s workers, including many of our celebrated essential workers, work in full-time jobs, and yet, they are still struggling to make ends meet. 

A 2021 report from the Brookings Institute found that essential workers comprise about half of all workers in low-paid occupations. Additionally, the National Low Income Housing Coalition reported in 2020 that full-time minimum wage workers cannot afford to rent even a one-bedroom apartment in 95% of U.S. Counties. These sobering realities only further support the analysis and recent reporting from the Economic Policy Institute that raising the federal minimum wage  to $15 an hour by 2025 is long overdue, and would “deliver broad benefits to workers and the economy.”

“The 32 million workers impacted by [the Raise the Wage Act] would have an average [wage] raise of about $3,300 a year by 2025, and when you’re in the bottom 21% of the wages in this country, $3,300 is a lot of money,” said Judy Conti who advocates on behalf of workers rights and federal policy to support low-wage workers and the unemployed. “Of the workers who would receive raises, 19 million of them are essential and frontline workers. We talk about how much these workers are heroes and how much praise they deserve. They don’t just deserve praise, they deserve a raise. They deserve praise and a raise.”

eliminating the subminimum wage for one fair wage

Momentum for the fight for a $15 minimum wage has been building in recent years, especially since the pandemic-induced spike in poverty. The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2009 and even worse, the subminimum wage for tipped workers has been stuck at $2.13 an hour since 1991, losing almost half of its value due to inflation over the past 30 years. A March 2021 Report from Justin Schweitzer at the Center for American Progress found that poverty rates are lower for everyone working in key tipped industries that have instituted a ‘one fair wage’ while also boosting job growth in key tipped industries like leisure and hospitality. 

“Everybody says you live paycheck to paycheck, but if you’re a tipped worker, you are living tip to mouth,” said Trupti Patel, who shared her reflections from working in the hospitality industry for 14 years before becoming an organizer with One Fair Wage: “Every tip is either gonna make or break what you make that day or take home. Now that I’m out of it, you get to see how much of a traumatic experience that is. In a way, you become numb and conditioned to accept it because, when you’re working, everybody’s working to survive, and then when you’re out of [a tipped wage job] you start realizing how much injustice you faced in that moment.”

“The tipped minimum wage comes from the era of reconstruction when it was an excuse for employers to put slaves back to work at a $0 wage where they were just going to be compensated by tips. In the last 150 years, that $0 has gone all the way up to $2.13. It became even more clear that was not something that our business could be associated with,” shared restaurant owner, Adam Orman. Adam also discussed what he learned about the tipped minimum wage that inspired him to become an advocate and to educate other small business owners on how their businesses can actually thrive with a raised, one fair wage: “There is also so much discrimination embedded in the tipped wage. Tipping, based on studies by the Economic Policy Institute, has a lot more to do with the gender and the race of the server than it does with the quality of the service. Texas is a $2.13 an hour state, but we never wanted to pay anybody $2.13 an hour and we knew that we could figure out a way to get everybody a base that was at least over the federal minimum wage, and include a service charge that we would be able to distribute to all staff and figure out how to guarantee them a living wage and then start to also add on more benefits.

With a Democratic majority in Congress, including a raised minimum wage as part of the legislative agenda has been a priority among activists and policymakers. However, efforts to raise the federal minimum wage faced a disappointing setback in Congress earlier this year during debates to pass the $1.9 trillion economic relief package, in the American Rescue Plan. Yet, in D.C., and across the country in both state-wide and local communities, the fight continues among policy advocates, organizers, business owners, and workers themselves for a raised, federal minimum wage. 

Actions you can take now as mentioned by our speakers

Listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Anchor, and more:

Listen along wherever you get your podcasts to learn what you can do to organize and advocate in your communities on behalf of one fair wage. The full transcript of this podcast episode is available here. 

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Labor and Employment
minimum wage
poverty
Poverty and Income
tipped minimum wage