Why $15

How to Win on Wages

Why $15

Workers Need It

Even in lower cost-of-living areas of the country, $15 is going to be the bare minimum necessary for workers to get by within the next decade. It may seem high now, but no one’s suggesting the federal minimum wage be immediately increased to $15. If a bill were passed first thing in 2021, it would likely take years of incremental increases, until at least 2026 (or later), to reach $15 an hour. 

According to a report done by the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, by 2024 a single adult without children will likely need an income of at least $31,200, almost exactly what a full-time worker earning $15 an hour makes annually, to achieve a modest but adequate standard of living. And that’s just the minimum for the cheapest areas of the country. 
This is why the claim that these small towns and rural areas can’t afford $15 an hour is so absurd. Costs everywhere are only going to continue to rise. The rest of the economy doesn’t stand still, especially with regards to inflation, so why should the minimum wage? In rural Missouri in 2024 a single adult is going to need to earn $15.63 per hour to cover basic living costs, while her counterpart in New York will need to earn $25.53 an hour. It’s absolutely fine to say that the minimum wage in large, expensive metro areas should be higher than that of poorer, rural areas, but $15 as a floor for everyone is not only eminently reasonable, it is in fact entirely necessary.

Workers Deserve it

On Sentence Argument:

Our economy has grown quickly over the last 50 years, earning more and more money for the people at the top, while working people reap just a small fraction of the rewards of their own labor.

Our economy has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 50 years, but workers have seen almost none of the fruits of their own labor. They’ve been toiling away, earning more and more money for the people above them, and reaping just a small fraction of the rewards. Looking at the minimum wage today compared to the mid 1960s, we can see just how dramatically we’ve let workers down. 

If the minimum wage in 1968 had simply been indexed to inflation and never touched again, it would be over $10 an hour today. But, we also need to take into account the fact that workers today are more productive than ever. In fact, worker productivity is now almost double what it was in 1968. This means that if the minimum wage had kept up with both inflation and worker productivity, as some have argued it should, it would be nearly $20 an hour today. That’s a far, far cry from $7.25, and makes the arguments that a $15 minimum wage would be unaffordable seem ridiculous.

[chart of minimum wage vs productivity growth]

We need $15 everywhere

One Sentence Argument:

Very soon, $15 an hour is going to be the absolute minimum a worker will need to survive in the cheapest parts of this country.

It’s correct that different areas with different labor markets need different wages. The minimum wage in New York City shouldn’t be the same as the minimum wage in rural Wyoming. But that doesn’t mean the federal minimum wage should be less than $15, it means that New York and San Francisco and Seattle should be prepared to take the next step and raise their minimum wages above $15. By 2024 a single adult will need to earn $15 an hour to pay for his or her basic needs in the cheapest parts of the country.

Some people say that increasing the minimum wage causes job loss and job flight, especially in lower-income areas. But if you look at the many states and localities that have raised their own minimum wage, you see a trend – that hasn’t actually happened anywhere. You can look at this graphic from the New York Times comparing Pennsylvania (which has not raised the wage) and New York State (which has). They observed: “higher minimum wages did not cost jobs in border counties.” There were just as many jobs on the New York side of the border as there were in Pennsylvania, they just paid better. And this wasn’t in New York City, these jobs were paying better in smaller, poorer, more rural areas on the state’s border.

NEXT: Economy 101–Good for Workers →