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Jayapal Introduces Legislation to Raise the Federal Minimum Wage to $15 as She Continues Organizing for Working People

The Raise the Wage Act follows Jayapal’s earlier work to make Seattle the first major city to enact a $15 minimum wage

WASHINGTON – United States Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, joined House Committee on Education and Labor Chair Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03), Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Senate HELP Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Stephanie Murphy (FL-07) today in introducing legislation that would make the Federal minimum wage a living wage. 

The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 would gradually increase the Federal minimum wage to $15 over five years. Following that, the Federal minimum wage would be indexed to median wage growth. This legislation also guarantees that all workers are paid at least the full federal minimum wage by gradually phasing out the sub-minimum wages for tipped workers, youth workers and workers with disabilities. Congress has not increased the Federal minimum wage in more than a decade – the longest stretch since it was first established in 1938.

“As a longtime organizer for working people who helped draft the resolution that made Seattle the first major city to enact a $15 minimum wage, I know that raising the wage is good for workers, families, businesses and the economy,” said Congresswoman Jayapal. “Now that we have a Democratic White House and a Democratic Senate, it is time for the People’s House to once again stand up for workers, fight for families and pass the Raise the Wage Act so we finally have a $15 minimum wage all across America.”

After years of organizing alongside working people and labor unions, Jayapal was appointed to serve on the Mayor’s Income Inequality Committee in 2014. The group ultimately drafted the details of Seattle’s $15 minimum wage proposal. Just months later, the measure passed and Seattle became the first major city to enact a $15 minimum wage. The proposal led to stronger businesses, healthier families and a growing economy. In the years that followed, Seattle had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, jobs increased steadily and Forbes Magazine ranked the city the number one place for business and careers.

Cities and states across America followed Seattle’s lead. Voters in Washington state raised the minimum wage in 2016. A total of 30 states now have a minimum wage that is higher than the current Federal minimum wage, and 20 states just raised their minimum wage at the beginning of 2021. 

Millions of people who are working full time still live in poverty under today’s $7.25 Federal minimum wage. A worker who works a full-time job at the Federal minimum wage only earns around $15,000 a year. According to an independent analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, the Raise the Wage Actwould increase wages for nearly 32 million Americans, including roughly a third of all Black workers and a quarter of all Latino workers. More than half of those who would benefit would be women.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the $7.25 federal minimum wage was economically and morally indefensible. Now, the pandemic is highlighting the gross imbalance between the productivity of our nation’s workers and the wages they are paid. Many of the essential workers who have braved a public health crisis to keep food on the table and care for our loved ones are still not being paid enough to provide for themselves or their families. Today, a full-time worker cannot afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment in any country in the U.S.,” said Chairman Scott. “Around the country, Americans across the political spectrum have repeatedly supported raising the minimum wage. In November, more than 60 percent of voters in Florida voted to increase the state minimum wage. The Raise the Wage Act is a critical step toward lifting hardworking people out of poverty, addressing income inequality, and building back a better economy where everyone can succeed.”

“Let’s be clear. The $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage is a starvation wage,” said Senator Sanders. “No person in America can make it on $8, $10, or $12 an hour. In the United States of America a job must lift workers out of poverty, not keep them in it. We must raise the minimum wage to a living wage – at least $15 an hour. And when we do that, not only will we be lifting millions of Americans out of poverty, we will be providing a raise to nearly 32 million workers. We can no longer tolerate millions of workers not being able to afford to feed their families or pay the rent. The time for talk is over. No more excuses. It is time for Congress to act to raise the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour.”

“The coronavirus pandemic and economic crises have pulled back the veil on the unconscionable economic disparities that working women, low-income families and other vulnerable communities have faced for decades,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  “By re-introducing the Chair Bobby Scott’s Raise the Wage Act, which passed on a bipartisan basis in the previous Congress, the Democratic Congress is taking another strong and long-needed step to honor the dignity, dedication and contributions of millions of hard-working Americans.  This legislation is a key part of Democrats’ commitment to not only recover from these crises, but to Build Back Better – and to do so in a way that advances justice, prosperity and equality for all Americans.”

“Americans working 40 hours a week should be able to put food on the table and a roof over their families’ heads, but with the minimum wage stuck at $7.25, far too many are working hard and still in poverty,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is one step Congress should take right now, particularly with the COVID-19 crisis stretching families’ resources further than ever. I am happy to move forward with this group to make it happen and give the American people a raise.”

“Throughout this pandemic, Democrats and Republicans alike have joined together in rightly calling our frontline workers ‘heroes.’ But despite their tireless work and the risk of COVID exposure, too many of these workers are paid wages so low, they can’t afford to pay for even their most basic needs. And because of systemic inequities and discrimination, workers of color, and in particular, women of color, are much more likely to be paid poverty-level wages,” said Senator Murray, Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. “Democrats are asking for $15 an hour, because no one working 40 hours a week, should be making $15,000 a year. If we’re committed to an economy that works for everyone, we need one fair, livable wage for everyone—and that includes workers with disabilities, tipped workers and youth workers. We won’t accept carve-outs and we won’t accept leaving anyone behind.”

“Last Congress, I was proud to help lead the historic effort in the House to give Americans a raise. Floridians then followed suit and voted to increase our state minimum wage and put more money in the pockets of hard-working families,” said Congresswoman Murphy. “This bill is a reasonable step to boost our economy and ensure everyone who works hard in this great country can provide for themselves and their loved ones.”

“Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will change my life and let me tell my kids I can give them a better life than mine,” said Kansas City McDonald’s worker Fran Marion. “I’m so proud to join with leaders in Congress today as they reintroduce the Raise the Wage Act, which will give tens of millions of working families like mine the raise we so desperately need. Essential workers have been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and we can’t wait for help any longer.”

“Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025 will be a boost to the economy, and a boost to our sales. Raising wages is good business. Paying people fairly leads to greater staff retention, which reduces the cost of hiring and training new people to replace employees who leave. And fair pay leads to better quality, better ideas and better customer service,” said Mike Draper, owner of Raygun LLC, an Iowa-based clothing and home goods company and member of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage.

For fact sheet on Raise the Wage Act, click here.

For the section-by-section of the Raise the Wage Act, click here.

For the bill text of the Raise the Wage Act, click here.