- Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a bill on Thursday to raise the minimum wage to $17 an hour.
- He confirmed the plans to Insider on Wednesday.
- The federal minimum wage is $7.25, and it’s remained unchanged since 2008.
Bernie Sanders introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage to $17 an hour, reigniting his long-standing battle to hike federal pay standards as income inequality and corporate profits grow.
Sen. Sanders announced the legislation on Thursday after confirming the plans to Insider on Wednesday, and he was joined by workers and union leaders, including AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and SEIU International President Mary Kay, according to a media advisory. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25, an amount unchanged since 2008. With rising inflation, the wage is worth less than it has been in decades.
“There are millions of workers in this country who are working literally on starvation wages, eight nine, ten bucks an hour,” Sanders told Insider on Wednesday. “Two years ago, we proposed a $15 an hour minimum wage as a result of inflation. $15 is now the equivalent of $17.”
“I think all over this country, you’re seeing states on their own voting to raise the minimum wage,” he added. “We have not raised the minimum wage here in Congress.”
Sanders said during his Thursday remarks that the legislation would raise the wage to $17 over a five-year period, and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee — which Sanders chairs — will be marking up the bill on June 14.
“Let’s be clear, this is not a radical idea,” Sanders said on Thursday. “The overwhelming majority of Americans support raising the minimum wage to a living wage. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a Democrat, Republican or Independent. People support and understand that workers need a living wage.”
Sanders has long pushed for a higher federal minimum wage, although he’s been more recently stymied by centrist Democrats. His most recent attempt was to include a $15 minimum wage as part of President Joe Biden’s 2021 stimulus package, although that provision was eventually struck down — and then voted out of contention by eight Democrats and independents who caucus with Democrats. Even with President Joe Biden’s commitment to a $15 minimum wage, there’s been little to no legislative movement on actually raising it since then.
Many states and cities — including historically right-leaning areas — have taken matters into their own hands, and raised their local minimum wage. Eight million workers alone got raises at the start of 2023. The decade-long battle to raise the minimum wage has helped slash the Black-white wealth gap in states that adopted higher pay, according to a report from the National Employment Law Project. And, per that report, since 2012 it’s led to $87.6 billion more in economic output
But that’s also left significant disparities for workers in states, including many in the South, that are more reticent to raise their minimum wages, and defer instead to the federal rate. Many of those states have large populations of Black workers, leaving glaring inequalities — especially as workers of color would be disproportionately uplifted by a higher federal minimum wage.
The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute found that, as of January 2023, 21 million workers still make less than $15 an hour. Workers in states that still adhere to the federal minimum wage are 46% more likely to make under $15 an hour, according to EPI, showcasing the power that the federal standard still holds.
Along with Sanders, other Democratic lawmakers have been calling for a minimum wage boost for years. In 2021, Pramila Jayapal, Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Bobby Scott, then-chair of the Education committee, led a push for an increase to $15 in the House of Representatives.
Scott said in a statement at the time that even before the pandemic, “the $7.25 federal minimum wage was economically and morally indefensible.”
“Now, the pandemic is highlighting the gross imbalance between the productivity of our nation’s workers and the wages they are paid,” Scott continued. “Many of the essential workers who have braved a public health crisis to keep food on the table and care for our loved ones are still not being paid enough to provide for themselves or their families. Today, a full-time worker cannot afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment in any country in the U.S.”
To be sure, the Republican-majority House and razor-thin Democratic majority in the Senate make it highly unlikely any legislation to raise the minimum wage will pass through this Congress. GOP Sen. John Thune, for example, expressed concerns with how an increase would impact businesses back in 2021.
“I started working by bussing tables at the Star Family Restaurant for $1/hour & slowly moved up to cook – the big leagues for a kid like me– to earn $6/hour,” Thune wrote on Twitter. “Businesses in small towns survive on narrow margins. Mandating a $15 minimum wage would put many of them out of business.”
But Biden, and many Democratic lawmakers, are continuing to push.
“Let’s pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and paid leave, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and extend the Child Tax Credit — so no one has to raise a family in poverty,” Biden wrote on Twitter last year.