Minimum wage has become a political battleground across the country at every level of government. States began setting minimum wages in the early 1900s to promote fair labor practices. Federal minimum wage was introduced in the 1930s and since then there has been near constant debate about the pros and cons of minimum wage and how much it should be.
The Federal minimum wage is currently $7.25hr; it’s set by the Fair Labor Standards Act, which can be amended to increase it. Twenty-nine states plus DC have higher minimums, with DC’s the highest at $10.50hr. DC and fifteen states also raise their minimums automatically according to the cost of living. In recent years many municipalities have set their own minimum wages higher than the Federal or state level, and this March California lawmakers reached a deal to raise their state’s minimum wage from $10hr to $15hr by 2022. Those in favor of raising minimum wage point out that a person making the Federal minimum $7.25hr and working 40hrs a week would earn $15,080 a year and be near to or below the poverty line depending on dependants. Supporters say that an increased minimum wage strengthens the economy by lifting people out of poverty, and they call for the minimum wage to be a living wage, with many sighting $15hr as the goal. Those opposed to raising it argue that increasing the minimum wage hurts the economy because it costs small businesses too much, makes it expensive for companies to grow and add employees, and will lead to businesses cutting jobs.
The political parties have taken clear sides with the Republicans aligning with businesses and working to keep minimum wage low, while the Democrats advocate for workers and try to raise it. Activist groups such as Fight For $15 and Raise The Minimum Wage are also advocating for an increase. President Obama has been pushing to get it raised and this year it has become a major campaign issue. Democratic candidate Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed a $15 Federal minimum and Hillary Clinton has supported a $12hr minimum. Of the Republican candidates Senator Ted Cruz has repeatedly opposed raising the minimum and Donald Trump was also against an increase in his most recent comments on the issue.
The upcoming elections are going to play an important role in the future of minimum wage. If a Democrat wins the Presidency and Democrats get more seats in the House and Senate, the minimum wage will go up by large increments over the next several years. If a Republican takes the Presidency and they keep their majority in Congress, then the federal minimum wage probably won’t increase at all in the next four years. If a Democrat is elected President but the Republicans maintain a strong majority in the House and Senate then we may see it go up some, but probably not all the way to $15 any time soon. Depending on how the votes go in November, we may need to get ready for big changes or a virtual wage freeze, either of which will have a big impact on the millions of Americans who work for minimum wage, the businesses that employ them, and our economy as whole.