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Democrats introduce $15 minimum wage bill

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on Tuesday called the current $7.25 federal minimum wage a starvation wage. Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on Tuesday called the current $7.25 federal minimum wage "a starvation wage." Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025.

Led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Reps. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., introduced the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 on Tuesday to increase the minimum wage for the first time since 2009 when it hit $7.25.

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"The $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage is a starvation wage. No person in America can make it on $8, $10 or $12 an hour," Sanders said in a press conference announcing the bill. "In the United States of America a job must lift workers out of poverty not keep them in it. We must raise the minimum wage to a living wage -- at least $15 an hour."

The bill, whose Senate companion is co-sponsored by 37 Democrats, would incrementally increase the minimum wage in fives steps, with the first increase to $9.50, followed a year later to $11 then to $12.50 a year after that. Three years after the bill passes, minimum wage would climb to $14 before hitting $15 in 2025.

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Murray, the incoming Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions chair, said Americans working 40-hour workweeks shouldn't be making only $15,000 a year.

"If we're committed to an economy that works for everyone, we need one fair, livable wage for everyone -- and that includes workers with disabilities, tipped workers and youth workers," Murray said. "We won't accept carveouts and we won't accept leaving anyone behind."

Under the bill, tipped workers would receive the federal minimal wage, though over a slightly longer schedule, increasing their wages from the current $2.12 to $14.95 by 2026.

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The bill will also repeal the sub-minimum wage, ensuring youth workers, who currently earn a minimum of $4.25 an hour, receive the federal minimum wage. It will also end sub-minimum wage certificates for workers with disabilities and gradually increase such wages to the full federal minimum wage.

According to a study of the bill by the Economic Policy Institute, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 would lift the pay of nearly 32 million workers, or 21% of the U.S. workforce.

The study also said that it would aid in narrowing the racial pay gap as 31% of Black Americans and 26% of Latinos make the federal minimum wage.

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The introduction of the legislation came after President Joe Biden signed an executive order calling for the hourly minimum wage for federal workers to be increased to $15, which was a companion to his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package proposal that calls for all minimum wage workers to receive this increase.

"No one in America should work 40 hours a week making below the poverty line," Biden said. "Fifteen dollars gets people above that poverty line."

The House passed in 2019 a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 but it faltered in the Republican-controlled Senate.

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Jayapal said with Democrats now holding the Senate, now is time for them to get this bill passed.

"Now that we have a Democratic White House and a Democratic Senate, it is time for the People's House to once again stand up for workers, fight for families and pass the Raise the Wage Act so we finally have a $15 minimum wage all across America," she said.

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