$15 minimum wage edges closer as Democrats near Senate control


  • A $15 federal minimum wage is more likely after the projected result of Georgia’s runoff election Tuesday for two U.S. Senate seats.
  • The Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, is projected to beat the Republican incumbent, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, according to NBC News. Jon Ossoff was winning against Republican David Perdue, but that race was too close to call.
  • Warnock, Ossoff and President-elect Joe Biden are advocates of raising the minimum wage. The Democrat-led House voted to increase it to $15 in 2019.

A $15 federal minimum wage edged closer after Tuesday’s Georgia runoff election, which seems likely to flip Senate control and unify government under the Democratic Party.

Such a pay boost would more than double the current federal minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, but would likely face resistance from some Republicans and business groups.

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, won the U.S. Senate runoff in Georgia on Tuesday, beating the Republican incumbent, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, according to NBC News projections.

Democrat Jon Ossoff was leading Republican David Perdue, whose Senate seat expired Sunday, in the other Georgia race, which was too close to call midday Wednesday, according to NBC News.

Democratic victories in those contests would give Democrats control of the Senate, the House and the presidency. Congress is scheduled to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s win over President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

“It’s absolutely a priority,” Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate, said of Democrats passing legislation to set a higher pay floor.

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Democrats, especially those from the party’s liberal wing, have long pushed to raise the national minimum wage. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who typically votes with Democrats, said in a Tuesday tweet that a $15 minimum wage was at stake in Georgia’s runoff election.

Proponents of increasing the pay floor argue the current standard doesn’t provide a livable wage for Americans.

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The federal minimum wage, currently $7.25 an hour, hasn’t been raised since 2009. That wage translates to $15,080 for a full-time, year-round worker, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Its value has eroded over time, since the wage doesn’t rise along with the cost of living.

Warnock and Ossoff are advocates for a $15 minimum wage, a point they stressed many times in recent months. Biden pledged to raise the wage floor to $15 an hour. The House voted to do so in 2019.

Several states, cities and counties recently increased their minimum wages, many to $15 or higher. Forty cities and counties will have met or exceeded a $15 minimum wage by the end of 2021, according to the National Employment Law Project.

“Over the last 40 years, what we’ve seen in America is that wages for working people have been crushed while returns to shareholders have gone through the roof,” Ossoff said on the campaign trail.

A higher wage would disproportionately help Black and Hispanic workers over other groups such as Whites and Asians, research shows. In December, Warnock called raising the minimum wage a “racial justice issue.”

Raising the wage would come at a time when low-wage earners and racial minorities have been disproportionately affected by job loss and poverty during the Covid pandemic.

However, passing such legislation isn’t a given. If both Democrats win in Georgia, the Senate will be divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris able to deliver a tiebreaking vote in favor of Democrats. That majority would be shy of the threshold to prevent a filibuster.

The Republican-controlled Senate didn’t bring the Raise the Wage Act to a vote after the bill passed the House in 2019.


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