Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) introduced a bill on Tuesday to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time in 14 years and end the longest period that the wage hadn’t been increased since the minimum wage was established decades ago.
The bill would raise the current federal minimum wage by nearly $10 an hour, increasing it from the current level of $7.25 to $17 an hour over the next five years. It would also abolish the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, which is currently a mere $2.13 an hour, and for workers with disabilities, whose median wage is only $3.50 hourly.
Lawmakers estimate that this would raise wages for nearly one-fifth of the U.S. labor force, or 28 million workers.
“The $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage is a starvation wage. It must be raised to a living wage — at least $17 an hour,” Sanders said in a statement.
“In the year 2023 a job should lift you out of poverty, not keep you in it. At a time of massive income and wealth inequality and record-breaking corporate profits, we can no longer tolerate millions of workers being unable to feed their families because they are working for totally inadequate wages,” he continued. “Congress can no longer ignore the needs of the working class of this country.”
Sanders, the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, was joined by 29 Democratic Senate colleagues and nearly 150 House members in introducing the bill. The House version was introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), the top Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The bill has the support of nearly 50 organizations, including major labor unions like the AFL-CIO and groups like the Economic Policy institute.
“No person working full-time in America should be living in poverty,” said Scott.
The bill represents a shift away from the outdated $15 an hour benchmark that progressive lawmakers and labor advocates had pushed for for over a decade, which research has found is no longer a livable wage for families in any state in the U.S. Earlier this year, Sanders said that $17 is the new goal this year, representing a raise to the $15 an hour minimum wage that he had almost gotten passed in 2021 based on inflation.
Advocates have been saying for years that $15 and even $17 isn’t enough for a living wage or to reflect worker productivity; $17 is not a living wage for a family of two adults and one child anywhere in the country, according to some estimates. If the federal minimum wage had risen according to increases to inflation and productivity since 1968, experts say it would be well over $20 if not over $30 today.
Meanwhile, if the minimum wage had kept up with increases to Wall Street bonuses since 1985, it would be $61.75 an hour, an Institute for Policy Studies report found last year.
Still, the bill would represent a huge improvement from the current federal minimum wage, the value of which is at its lowest point in 67 years, having lost 28 percent of its value since Congress last raised it in 2009.
The press release on the bill seems to acknowledge that $17 is a compromise, pointing out similar statistics on productivity increases and Wall Street bonuses. But even at the compromise amount, the legislation is unlikely to pass Congress, with Republicans in control of the House and conservative Democrats opposed to raising the minimum wage.