News Releases

Regional Approach to Federal Minimum Wage Would Keep Wages Artificially Low in Many Parts of U.S.

Following is a statement from Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, on the introduction of the “Paying Hourly Americans Stronger Earnings (PHASE)-in $15 Wage Act” (H.R. 2080): 

“The concept of trying to codify regional cost-of-living differences within the Fair Labor Standards Act isn’t a new idea. But there are many important reasons why it has never been done before and shouldn’t be done now, especially in a manner that backs away from a $15 minimum wage for all parts of this country by 2024.

“While some are trying to paint $15 per hour by 2024 as a ‘radical’ proposal of the ‘far left,’ such a wage is the equivalent of roughly $12.98 in today’s dollars. According to the Economic Policy Institute’s family budget calculator, there is not one county in America where a single individual, even without children, can have a secure standard of living working full-time, year-round at $12.98 per hour. Thus, even $15 in 2024 would be inadequate for ensuring a modest but secure standard of living—but it would be dramatically better than the current minimum wage.

“If anyone thinks that $15 per hour in 2024 is ‘radical’ and too high, it’s only because Congress has shamefully neglected its duty to keep the minimum wage even remotely current. Over the past five decades, it has stagnated so dramatically that we’ve become accustomed to a low federal minimum wage. But workers in this country cannot continue to suffer because of Congressional neglect, the outsized lobbying influence of corporate America, and the current pitiful federal minimum wage of only $7.25 per hour.

“Those who want to make sure that minimum wages reflect local costs of living need look no further than the authority the Fair Labor Standards Act already provides to states and cities to enact higher minimum wages for their citizens. Currently, 29 states and more than 40 cities and counties—comprising most of the nation’s higher-cost-of-living regions—have higher minimum wages than the shamefully low federal rate of $7.25 per hour.

“But the bill introduced today would bake-in wages that are already artificially low in many parts of the country because of the monopsony power of large national employers. It would result in disproportionately lower wages for women and people of color, especially in the South, and would drastically undercut the impact of the Raise the Wage Act. Another fatal flaw is that this bill would not phase out the unjust subminimum wage for some workers with disabilities. It’s long past time to rid our laws of such antiquated and discriminatory provisions.

“The time is long overdue to correct the Congressional neglect of our national minimum wage. People who are serious about raising the federal minimum wage will support the Raise the Wage Act as it was reported out of the Education and Labor Committee, without any harmful or poison-pill amendments.”

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