After stating at least a half dozen different positions on the minimum wage in recent months, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump yesterday said he supports raising the federal minimum wage to “at least $10.” Since then, other prominent Republicans, including Congressional Republicans seeking reelection, have been running for cover trying to duck the issue. By their past votes and statements, they’ve all opposed raising the poverty-level federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
The Republican platform states: “The minimum wage is an issue that should be handled at the state and local level.” Not even a mention of the federal minimum wage. And total hypocrisy, because Republicans have almost universally opposed state and local minimum wage increases.
Democrats, meanwhile, have adopted a platform calling for a $15 federal minimum wage.
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The following is a statement from Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund:
“Today marks yet another year of federal inaction on the minimum wage. Congress last acted to raise the minimum wage almost 10 years ago, and the rate has been stuck at $7.25 since 2009. NELP Action is joining organizations across the country to demand that Congress leave partisan politics aside and ensure that a fair day’s work means a fair day’s pay in this country. Through the #RaiseItDamnIt campaign, workers and their families will be able to send a unified, clear message to legislators that the time to act is now.
“By any standard, the current $7.25 minimum wage fails to account for the major contributions of workers to our economy. Had the minimum wage kept up with inflation since the 1960s, it would be approximately $11 per hour today. Had it kept up with productivity, it would have exceeded $21 per hour in 2012. And while the minimum wage has stagnated and wages, generally, have declined for low-wage workers across the country for years, inequality has grown by leaps and bounds. In 2012, the top 10 percent of earners took in more than half of the country’s total income, and the top 1 percent, alone, took in more than one-fifth.
“The potential benefits of a higher federal minimum wage are clear. Twenty years of economic research tells us that we can raise the minimum wage without a discernible impact on employment. Impact assessments of a $12 federal minimum wage conclude that it would raise wages for more than one in four workers—or 35 million people. It would address racial disparities in pay that plague our communities—a $12 minimum wage would raise pay for 35 percent of African American workers and 38 percent of Hispanic workers. Women stand to benefit disproportionately as well—a $12 minimum wage would raise wages for close to 20 million women—or 30 percent of wage-earning women. A higher federal minimum wage would no doubt benefit Main Street businesses and local economies in need of stronger consumer demand. Moreover, over 200 economists have endorsed Bernie Sanders’ $15 minimum wage bill.
“Democrats recently added a $15 minimum wage to the party’s platform as its first item, and Democratic-controlled legislatures in California, New York, and Washington, D.C. have adopted a $15 minimum wage in those states.
“The Republican Platform, on the other hand, tells us that the GOP believes that the ‘[m]inimum wage is an issue that should be handled at the state and local level.’ This amounts to opposition of any minimum wage increase, however, and exposes the GOP’s hypocrisy on the issue. Republican-controlled legislatures have rushed in recent years to ‘preempt’—i.e., prohibit—cities, towns, and counties from raising their own minimum wage. Alabama presents a recent egregious example: Birmingham’s city council passed a $10.10 minimum wage last year that would have benefited over 40,000 workers in the city. Republican state legislators responded by quickly banning Birmingham and all other Alabama cities from raising wages. Of the 21 states that have refused to set a state minimum wage higher than the federal minimum, and where the minimum wage is stuck at $7.25 per hour, 15 have passed legislation to preempt local minimum wage laws. To date, 20 states have adopted minimum wage preemption laws and more are expected to follow.
“The #RaiseItDamnIt campaign will highlight worker voices and the need for federal action in the coming months, but, ultimately, when nearly two-thirds of voters support increasing the minimum wage to $15 and 75 percent low-wage workers support both a $15 minimum wage and a union, Congress can no longer justify delay.”
The National Employment Law Project Action Fund, a project of The Advocacy Fund, is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers. For more about the NELP Action Fund, visit www.nelpaction.org.
In an op-ed published Sunday in the Arizona Republic, NELP Action Fund Staff Attorney Laura Huizar takes that state’s Republican legislators to task for hypocrisy: touting the virtues of local control on the one hand, while repeatedly seeking to thwart local efforts to raise the minimum wage and strengthen employment benefits on the other.
“When it comes to the minimum wage and basic employment benefits, GOP legislators have made one thing clear: Workers will not win. Arizona legislators have taken that message to a new, unlawful extreme with two bills designed to chill local laws that help workers,” writes Huizar.
In fact, the GOP bills violate the state’s Voter Protection Act, under which the legislature (1) is prohibited from repealing a voter-approved ballot initiative, and (2) can amend a voter-approved initiative by a three-fourths vote but only if the change furthers the purpose of the initiative.
In 2006, Arizona voters spoke clearly when they approved a ballot initiative allowing cities to enact local minimum wage and benefits laws.
This is the third time that the state’s GOP lawmakers have tried to block local efforts to improve wages and benefits.
Read the op-ed at the Arizona Republic.
Senator Bernie Sanders, who has made a $15 minimum wage a centerpiece of his campaign’s pledge to fight income inequality, won the nation’s first Democratic presidential primary Tuesday in New Hampshire, and did so by a substantial margin. With nearly all the votes tallied, Mr. Sanders garnered 60.4 percent of the vote, compared to 38 percent for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a 22 point margin.
The vote in New Hampshire came just three days after fast-food and other low-wage workers held their first-ever strikes in the state, urging workers to vote for candidates who support their call for union rights and a $15 minimum wage. The protests included a rally outside the Republican debate in Manchester, organized by the Fight for $15 campaign, which estimates that nearly half of New Hampshire’s workers—about 281,000 people—are paid less than $15 per hour. Nationally, 42 percent of America’s workers make less than $15 per hour, according to a report by the National Employment Law Project.
The 60 percent vote for Sanders on Tuesday bears striking similarity to the results of a national poll conducted for NELP in January 2015 which showed 63 percent of voters favoring a $15 federal minimum wage.
The New Hampshire results come a week after Mrs. Clinton had a better showing in the Iowa caucuses, narrowly winning by 0.2 percent, the smallest margin in the 44-year history of the state’s Democratic caucus.
Both Sanders and Clinton strongly favor raising the federal minimum wage, which remains stuck at the poverty-level $7.25 per hour due to Congressional Republicans’ refusal to consider raising it. Mrs. Clinton supports the Senate Democratic leadership’s proposal for a phased-in $12 federal minimum wage by 2020, and has endorsed higher local minimum wages, including cities moving to a $15 wage floor. But she raises the issue less frequently than Sanders does, and has noted her opposition to Sanders’s call for a $15 federal minimum wage. In contrast, Sanders makes his support of a $15 minimum wage an almost constant component of his campaign message. None of the remaining Republican presidential candidates supports raising the federal minimum wage.
Both Iowa and New Hampshire are among the 21 states where the minimum wage is determined by the federal minimum wage of $7.25, as is South Carolina, another early primary state, where Republicans will vote on February 20th and Democrats one week later.
Exit polling from New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary shows that Sanders’s emphasis on fighting income inequality, supporting higher wages and benefits for workers, and a $15 minimum wage helped earn him his strongest support from lower-income working people. Among voters in the Democratic primary with incomes of less than $30,000 per year (equivalent to $14.42 per hour for 40 hours a week year-round), Sanders received 72 percent of their votes compared to 24 percent for Clinton. That margin of roughly 16,500 votes represented nearly a third (29.5 percent) of Sanders’s total vote margin. Among Democratic primary voters from households with combined incomes of less than $50,000 per year, Sanders received 65 percent of the vote compared to 32 percent for Clinton, with his vote margin among those voters being almost half (44.9 percent) of his total margin. The only income group in which Clinton outpolled Sanders Tuesday was among voters with incomes of $200,000 per year or more.
Also notable in the exit polling, the two most important issues identified by Democratic primary voters were the economy and jobs (33 percent) and income inequality (32 percent). Voters who said income inequality was the most important issue favored Sanders by a 71 to 29 margin, while those who said the economy and jobs were most important voted for Sanders 59 to 39. And those who reported voting in a Democratic primary for the first time favored Sanders by 78 percent to 21 percent for Clinton.
Entrance and exit polls from the Iowa Democratic caucuses also showed Sanders’s support strongest among lower-income voters. There, he won among voters from households with incomes of less than $30,000 and $50,000 per year, but by smaller margins than in New Hampshire. Iowa Democratic caucus voters from households earning less than $30,000 favored Sanders by a 57 to 41 margin; those from households with incomes of less than $50,000 supported Sanders 53 to 44. But, in contrast to New Hampshire, Clinton won among voters in all income groups from households of $50,000 or more, and did so by a ten-point margin, 52 to 42.
In New Hampshire, Sanders began his campaign with little support despite hailing from the neighboring state of Vermont. The day after he announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination last April, polls showed him at just 11.3 percent in New Hampshire—40 points behind Clinton. By the time he joined workers at a Fight for $15 rally outside the U.S. Capitol last July—the same day he introduced his federal $15 minimum wage bill in Congress—he had narrowed the gap in the polls to trail Clinton by less than 17 points. Sanders then elevated his call for a $15 minimum wage to the top of his campaign’s agenda, and within two months, the poll numbers in New Hampshire had swung by 30 points to show him leading by nearly 13 points. And while his poll numbers continued to solidify through the fall, his 22 point margin in Tuesday’s primary was more than 8 points higher than even his average lead in the most recent polls.
With more and more cities and states taking action to raise minimum wages to $15 per hour, and more campaigns to do so emerging for this year and beyond, Tuesday’s resounding primary win for Bernie Sanders could mark a political turning point for the growing movement for a $15 minimum wage. We may well see more candidates for elected office campaign for a $15 minimum wage, joining the ranks of Russ Feingold, a U.S. Senate candidate in Wisconsin, and Katie McGinty, a Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, who are already doing so.
Measures Raising Wages Pass Across the Board, in Red States and Blue, Sending Signal to Candidates as 2016 Election Cycle Kicks Off
WASHINGTON, DC—On Tuesday, voters in four states and three cities passed ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage for an estimated 609,000 low-wage workers. In two more states, voters approved non-binding referenda, instructing their legislators to raise the wage for another 1.1 million workers. The near 100 percent success rate for the initiatives illustrates the increasing importance of wages to voters of all political stripes, and suggests that candidates’ opposition to higher wages may come at a high political price in the run-up to 2016.
The wage victories came as Republican candidates eked out enough wins to hand the party control of the Senate, an unsurprising development given conditions that favored Republicans – including the typically low turnout of midterm elections. The approval of ballot proposals on state and local minimum wages in spite of these political headwinds sends a clear message that wages are front and center for the electorate – which may have a decisive effect on the outcome of the 2016 general election, in which low-income individuals and others who heavily favor raising wages turn out in much higher numbers.
“What today’s midterm results say loud and clear is that voters will not simply toe the party line when it comes to economic issues, and in particular higher wages,” said Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Project Action Fund. “This is not a partisan issue for working folks, but a practical one. People understand that $7.25 is not nearly enough to make ends meet, and that wages must allow hard-working families to raise their children in economic security. This is a clear mandate for minimum and living wage proponents to soldier on until we have fair wages throughout the country, and a clear warning to opponents to change their minds quickly before 2016.”
Residents of five states – Alaska, Arkansas, three cities in California, Nebraska and South Dakota – cast a vote on their state or local minimum wages in binding ballot proposals that would increase the wage floor to anywhere from $8.50 to $15 (see Table 1), affecting 609,000 low-wage workers. In two more states – Illinois, and nine counties and four cities in Wisconsin – the referenda were non-binding, but if legislators follow through on the will of voters, over 1.1 million additional low-wage workers will receive a raise. The approval of ballot proposals in nearly all of these states and localities – including conservative strongholds Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota – signals the increasing prominence of higher wages in a populist economic agenda that seeks to improve the broader economy from the bottom up.
“This is a victory for all hard-working Americans,” said Christine Owens. “It is not only hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers who would be better off – thanks to the support of their friends, families and neighbors who cast a vote in their favor – but American families as a whole will, too. When we raise the wage floor for our lowest paid workers, we improve compensation for better paid workers and boost our local and national economies. That is welcome news for everyone.”
Prior to the midterm elections, a poll commissioned by NELP Action Fund and conducted by Public Policy Polling in six states with highly competitive Senate or gubernatorial races found strong support for increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour among likely voters. It also found that Republican candidates who opposed wage increases faced serious backlash for their opposition in the November 2014 elections and beyond.
Indeed, a new Public Policy Polling survey in 11 expected 2016 battleground states on behalf of NELP Action Fund and Americans United for Change suggests political peril for minimum wage opponents seeking national office in 2016. 60% of voters in these states support raising the minimum wage, as compared to 35% who oppose doing so, according to the poll. The poll also found that voters in these states are less likely – by 18 points – to support candidates who oppose raising the minimum wage, and by a 17 point spread trust Democrats more on the issue. These findings cast doubt on Republicans’ ability to maintain their hold on Congress and take back the White House in 2016 while continuing to oppose an increase in the minimum wage.
Table 1: States and Localities With 2014 Ballot Initiatives
|$9.75 (by 2016)
|$8.50 (by 2017)
|$12.00 (by 2015)
|$12.25 (by 2015)
|$15.00 (by 2018)
|$10.00 (by 2015)
|$9.00 (by 2016)
|$8.50 (by 2015)
|Wisconsin (9 counties and 4 cities)Counties: Dane, Douglas, Eau Claire, Kenosha, La Crosse, Milwaukee, Portage, Rock, Wood.
Cities: Appleton, Menasha, Neenah and Racine.
National Employment Law Project Action Fund
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Contact: Emma Stieglitz, [email protected], (646) 200-530