The minimum wage landscape is rapidly changing

Macdonalds: Im not loving poverty wages, protest sign...

The new Raise the Wage Act to raise the federal minimum wage and tipped wage is more ambitious than last year’s Fair Minimum Wage Act.

Cities like Seattle and Los Angeles (and LA County) have already voted to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour and DC will take up a similar ballot initiative next year.

It is not just cities raising wages for low-wage workers. In Massachusetts, home health workers have won a $15/hour starting wage through a contract with the state and now the New York wage board has recommended a $15/hour wage for fast food workers in the state.

By sector, city, and state, slowly the wages of the country’s lowest-wage workers are rising and we are showing that $15/hour is a viable goal and not just a catchy tagline (“Fight for 15”).

As more states and cities raise wages, there are more opportunities to evaluate the effect of raising the wage on the economy, and the research shows that raising the minimum wage benefits the economy. It’s not just workers who benefit. Businesses benefit from more sales (more people with more money), more loyal and productive workforces, and less turnover.

Yet there is still resistance to the idea of raising the minimum wage, even from those who wish to see a more just economy. Here are a few of the concerns we’ve been fielding and some answers.

Concern: Raising the minimum wage will actually harm low-wage workers because jobs will disappear or be moved to countries with lower wages.

FWP Response:  The research cited above shows that raising the minimum wage boost the economy and does not cause job loss. What has caused job loss are bad trade agreements. One million US jobs were lost in the decades after NAFTA went into effect. If we are serious about keeping decent jobs for working families, the answer is not to participate in the race to the bottom. We need to raise the wage for all workers globally and that means fighting against bad trade policies like the Trans Pacific Partnership even as we fight for higher wages for low-wage workers in the US.

Concern: Raising the minimum wage will harm small businesses and promote big corporations like Wal-Mart, ultimately doing more harm than good.

FWP Response: One thing to know is that many of the wage laws that have been passed, like that in Seattle, do give more time for smaller businesses to comply or as in the case of New York’s fast food wages, only apply to larger corporations with a certain number of locations, 30 in the case of New York. It is also the case that many smaller businesses have supported minimum wage increases, Dean’s Beans and Equal Exchange are just too examples.  Many smaller businesses already pay higher wages, either because it is part of their values or because they have developed personal relationships with their employees and want them to thrive. Insisting that larger corporations pay higher wages would actually help level the playing field, not drive them out of business.

Concern: We should not be advocating to raise the minimum wage, the real solution is  ___________[addressing runaway inflation, our broken immigration system, a poisonous food system, etc.].

FWP Response: Yes, to create a truly just economy will take a complete transformation of our current system. There are many problems to address and many paths forward. That is why we work on so many issues ourselves including climate change, fair trade, farmworker justice, and trade policy. That does not mean we should not be working toward wage increases that will help millions of low-wage workers pay their bills and live a more dignified life.

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