The cost of living in the United States has long eclipsed the minimum wage. At $7.25 per hour, an employee who is working 40 hours per week, 52 weeks a year, earns only $15,080. This is below the federal poverty limit of $17,240 for a family of two, and many individuals who are paid the federal minimum wage are often supporting far more than just one other person besides themselves.
Millions of workers with full-time jobs are trapped in poverty. During a period of extreme economic instability, minimum wage workers are the most impacted. These individuals and families do not receive enough to save for crisis situations like the one the country is confronting today. This includes many of the essential and frontline workers who have faced the greatest risks during the pandemic. It's time that our federal minimum wage becomes a living wage.
The federal minimum wage was established as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in 1938 as a way of keeping America’s workers out of poverty and increasing consumer purchasing power to stimulate the economy. The minimum wage in 1938 was 25 cents per hour and has since been raised 22 times over the decades to its current level of $7.25 per hour. Unfortunately, the federal minimum wage has not increased since 2009. Rather than lifting America’s workers out of poverty, the current minimum wage traps people into poverty.
The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 was introduced in January 2021 by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA-3). The bill would:
1. Raise the federal minimum wage gradually to $15 an hour by 2025;
2. Index the minimum wage to the median wage after 2025; and
3. Gradually increase the subminimum wage for tipped workers until it reaches parity with the regular minimum wage.
A $15 an hour minimum wage would directly increase wages for nearly 32 million workers, which is of critical importance in this moment when so many workers are struggling. A majority of workers who benefit from a $15 minimum wage are essential and frontline workers. Under this bill, the minimum wage would continue to rise after 2025, as the Department of Labor will set a new minimum wage each year based on any increases to the wages of other workers in the economy. This policy ensures that the minimum wage does not lose value over time.
The bill now needs to be reintroduced in the 118th Congress.
Jewish tradition is deeply concerned about the fair treatment of laborers. Deuteronomy 24:14-15 instructs, “you shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer. You must pay [them] [their] wages on the same day, before the sun sets, for [they] are needy and urgently depend upon it.” Employers are required to pay their worker fair wages in a timely manner. The Talmud explains the importance of fair wages to a worker. “Whoever withholds an employee’s wages, it is as though he has taken the person’s life.” (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 83a). We are called to pay workers a fair wage so that they can earn a livelihood.
For More Information:
For more information on living wages and economic justice, visit the RAC’s living wages page on our website or contact Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Lillie Heyman at email@example.com.
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