Why Joe Biden plans to raise the federal minimum wage

qz.com
7 min read
fairly difficult
The new US president is betting the country is ready to unify around a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour.
Part of newly inaugurated US president Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan includes a hotly debated measure: an almost doubling of the US federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

"No one working 40 hours a week should live below the poverty line," Biden said in a Jan. 14 speech. "If you work for less than $15 an hour and work 40 hours a week, you're living in poverty."

For more than a century, economists have debated the merits of minimum wage increases. The debate is now back in the spotlight amid the renewed attention on inequality: Does a minimum wage lead to better lives or fewer jobs? Even if a minimum wage is the best policy, is a national minimum wage the best approach to reducing inequality?

Congressional Republicans have generally opposed raising the minimum wage, saying it would hamper an economic recovery. But Biden is confident the issue is moving beyond partisan politics. He noted that Florida, a state that did not vote for him in the Nov. 3 election, at the same time approved a ballot measure to increase the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026. Now, roughly 40% of the US workforce is in cities or states with minimum wages set to climb to $15 or more.

"People tell me that's going to be hard to pass," Biden said. "Florida just passed it. The rest of the country is ready to move as well."

That Biden is making the federal minimum wage a clear priority will be an early test of his pledges to work across both aisles. In the 50-50 US Senate, a federal bill would need the support of at least 10 Republican senators, unless it gets put through the legislative process known as budget reconciliation, in which case it could pass the Senate with a simple majority.

In 2019, the US House of Representatives passed a bill to gradually lift the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, but the Republican-controlled Senate refused to take it up. The federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 since 2009.

How far minimum wages have come

The first…
Michelle Cheng
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