Flanked by union leaders and workers, Bernie Sanders announced a bill on Thursday to raise the federal minimum wage to $17 over five years. If passed, that would be more than double the current $7.25 minimum, which has remained unchanged since 2009.
“In the year 2023, in the richest country in the history of the world, nobody should be forced to work for starvation wages. That’s not a radical idea,” Sen. Sanders said on Thursday. “If you work 40-50 hours a week, you should not be living in poverty. It is time to raise the minimum wage to a living wage.”
Adjusting for inflation, the current minimum wage has lost more than a third of its value since its high point in 1968, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
Most Americans agree that the federal minimum wage is too low. In a 2022 YouGov poll, 70% of respondents said that $7.25 an hour is "not sustainable to live on for any period of time,” and 77% said that it was too low.
Gallery: Can You Guess the Minimum Wage the Year You Were Born?
It’s no surprise, then, that Sanders’ proposal was met with vocal support on social media, where many argued that the bill didn’t go far enough.
“I appreciate the try, but I’m topped out at my job making $27/hr and it’s absolutely a struggle to pay rent on my own and still have enough for bills and essentials the rest of the month,” a Redditor from Tennessee wrote.
Despite an increase’s popularity, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle continue to vote against federal minimum wage increases. In 2021, for instance, eight senate Democrats joined Republicans to — surprise, surprise — reject a $15 minimum wage provision.
For that reason, Sanders’ bill is likely dead on arrival, especially since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives last year.
That said, workers have made small inroads. In 2021, President Biden increased the minimum wage for federal workers to $15 an hour, and across the U.S., cities and states have raised minimum wages to as high as $18.69 an hour. And yet, 21 million workers are still paid less than $15 an hour.
No one — not even a single adult without children – "can achieve an adequate standard of living” with a wage below $15 an hour, according to the EPI.
The fact that the $7.25/hour federal minimum wage hasn't been raised since 2009 is atrocious.— Robert Reich (@RBReich) May 4, 2023
But it's actually far worse than that.
The federal minimum wage is worth ~30% less today than it was worth in 2009.
It’s worth ~40% less than in 1968.
It’s time to raise the wage.