Nor is it realistic to expect workers to survive, much less thrive, on $10 an hour, as Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) proposes, or $11 an hour, which Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) would prefer. The richest country on Earth can surely afford to accept the following proposition: Anyone who works a full-time job should be able to afford at least a working-class life. At less than $15 an hour, that simply is not possible.
Federal policy recognizes that the current minimum wage is not a living wage. We help low-wage workers survive with tax credits, food assistance, subsidized housing and other sorely needed programs. But why the reluctance to require employers to compensate an honest day’s work with an honest day’s pay?
Other important principles once championed by the Republican Party are being undermined by this hesitance: Self-reliance. Self-respect. The idea of work as its own reward. The notion of idleness as damaging to self and to society.
Yes, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 1.4 million workers could lose their jobs, although many other economists argue that the impact on employment would be marginal or nonexistent. The CBO also estimates that the net impact would be to lift 900,000 Americans out of poverty.
Look beyond the fact that the federal poverty level — a family of four making a penny more than $26,500 annually is not considered poor — should really be called the federal penury level. And leave aside that a full-time, minimum-wage job would earn only $15,080 per year. Consider instead how seldom we even talk about poverty today, as though the poor have magically become invisible or ceased to exist.
President Biden included the $15 wage in his proposed relief legislation. But because the Senate parliamentarian has ruled that the boost cannot be approved through the arcane “reconciliation” process requiring only 51 votes, Democrats would have to pursue it independently.
But I fail to see the political downside of supporting the measure for any Democrats — or even for the few reasonable Republicans left in the Senate. Raising the minimum wage is a popular idea; a Vox poll this week showed that 62 percent of voters support the relief bill’s plan for a gradual increase to $15 by 2025. Some of the nation’s biggest employers have already made the move: Costco this week announced that it would raise its starting hourly wage to $16, outflanking major corporate rivals. Small-business owners would have four years to adjust and adapt.