New Poll Shows Overwhelming Support for Substantial Minimum Wage Increase

by Mitchell Hirsch

As Congress prepares to receive President Obama for his State of the Union address next week, leading worker advocacy groups today called for new legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $12.50 per hour by 2020, provide automatic annual increases to keep pace with rising overall wages, and phase-out the subminimum wage for tipped workers.

The proposal is getting an immediate boost by the release of a new poll showing 75% of Americans – including 53% of Republicans – support raising the national minimum wage to $12.50 by 2020.  The poll, conducted by Hart Research Associates on behalf of the National Employment Law Project, also showed 71% support increasing the tipped minimum wage so that all workers would be guaranteed the same wage floor, and 82% support for automatic annual adjustments to the minimum wage.  In addition, the poll showed 63% support for an even greater increase in the federal minimum wage to $15.00 by 2020.

Groups backing the proposed minimum wage plan of $12.50 by 2020 include the National Employment Law Project, the Economic Policy Institute, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Women’s Law Center, the National Council of La Raza, Restaurant Opportunities Center, 9 to 5/National Organization of Working Women, the Coalition on Human Needs, Action for the Common Good, Moms Rising, and Americans United for Change.

The proposed increase would be phased in with annual increases of $1.05 per year over five years so that the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour would be raised to $12.50 by 2020, with automatic indexing adjustments each year thereafter.

The poll released today also showed that support for a minimum wage increase to $12.50 by 2020 is overwhelming throughout the U.S.  In every region of the country, and in so-called “red” states and “blue” states alike, at least 7 in 10 Americans favor a proposed raise to $12.50 by 2020.

“The findings here are very clear: Americans, regardless of region, socioeconomic status, or demographic distinction, strongly favor a very significant increase in the federal minimum wage,” said Guy Molyneux of Hart Research Associates in a statement issued with the poll results.

“Stagnant income is the crisis of our time, and now is the moment for Congress to act boldly to address it, using one of the most potent tools at its disposal,” said Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP).  “The American people are way ahead of lawmakers on this issue: they have seen cities and states aggressively raise pay while continuing to thrive economically, and they want Washington to do the same.”

“A $12.50 minimum wage by 2020 is a simple and direct way to boost wages for thirty-five to forty million workers and their families;” said Larry Mishel, President of the Economic Policy Institute.  “it is also a boon for our economy overall as this wage growth will fuel household spending that helps main street businesses grow.”

By two key measures, NELP noted in a statement, an increase in the minimum wage to $12.50 is in line with historical experience.  First, a $12.50 wage represents just over 55% of the projected median wage in 2020, a key benchmark economists use to assess the economic viability of a particular wage.  This represents a return to 1968, a time at which national unemployment was below 4%.  Second, the average annual increase under this proposal (11.5%) is comparable to the average annual increase under all previous minimum wage hikes since 1961 (11.7%).