WASHINGTON – The House voted Thursday to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, delivering a long-sought victory to liberals and putting the Democratic Party's official imprimatur on the so-called Fight for $15, which many Democratic presidential candidates have embraced.
The bill would more than double the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour — about $15,000 a year for someone working 40 hours a week, or about $10,000 less than the federal poverty level for a family of four. It has not been raised since 2009, the longest time the country has gone without a minimum-wage increase since it was established 1938.
The measure, which passed largely along party lines, 231-199, after Republicans branded it a jobs-killer, faces a blockade in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he will not take it up. Only three Republicans voted for it, while six Democrats opposed it. Most represent swing districts.
But it previews what Democrats would do if they capture the Senate and the White House in 2020, and it demonstrates how fast the politics have shifted since 2012, when fast-food workers began to strike in cities around the country, demanding $15-an-hour wages and a union.
When the Fight for $15 movement was launched, the figure seemed absurdly high, and even Democrats thought it was politically impossible. In the years since, even Republican states like Arkansas and Missouri have raised minimum wages, encouraging Democrats on Capitol Hill. In 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., pushed the issue to the fore when he challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"This is an historic day," declared Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who argued that raising the minimum pay would disproportionately help women, who make up more than half of minimum-wage workers, and would particularly help women of color. Turning to Republicans, she said: "No one can live with dignity on a $7.25-per-hour minimum wage. Can you?"
As the measure passed, the House gallery, filled with restaurant workers, erupted into cheers and chants of "We work! We sweat! We want 15 on our check!"
Democratic moderates — especially those who represent districts carried by President Donald Trump — were nervous about the measure, and it took champions of the bill months to bring them around. In the end, the sponsors tacked on two provisions: one authorizing a study of the measure's effects after it has been in place for two years, and another extending the deadline for a $15 minimum wage from 2024 to 2025.
Raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 will pull 1.3 million Americans out of poverty and could result in wage increases for up to 27 million workers, according to a recent Congressional Budget Office analysis.
But it would leave 1.3 million people, or 0.8% of the workforce, out of a job, the same study concluded. While the legislation would boost incomes at the bottom, it would cost richer households and would slightly reduce gross domestic product.