Opinion | Raise the Federal Minimum Wage or Abolish It?

By Jane Coaston

The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour hasn’t changed since 2009. Workers in 21 states make the federal floor, which can be even lower for people who make tips. And at $7.25 an hour, a person working full time with a dependent is making below the federal poverty line.

States such as California, Florida, Illinois and Massachusetts have approved gradual minimum wage increases to reach $15 an hour — so is it time to do it at the federal level?

On Wednesday 20 senators from both parties are set to meet to discuss whether to use their influence on minimum wage legislation.

Economists have argued for years about the consequences of the hike, saying employers who bear the costs would be forced to lay off some of the very employees the minimum wage was intended to support. A report by the Congressional Budget Office on a proposal to see $15 by 2025 estimates the increase would move 900,000 people out of poverty — and at the same time cut 1.4 million jobs.

On today’s episode, we debate the fight for $15 with two people who see things very differently. Saru Jayaraman is the president of One Fair Wage and the director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Jeffrey Miron is a senior lecturer in the department of economics at Harvard University and the director of economic studies at the Cato Institute.

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Learn More

The Congressional Budget Office’s February 2021 report on the budgetary effects of the Raise the Wage Act of 2021.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ April 2020 report “Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers.”

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“The Argument” is produced by Phoebe Lett, Elisa Gutierrez and Vishakha Darbha and edited by Alison Bruzek and Paula Szuchman; fact-checking by Michelle Harris; music and sound design by Isaac Jones.

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