For years, opponents of raising the federal minimum wage have argued that we don’t need to raise the minimum wage because most low-wage workers are just teenagers trying to earn a little spending money. We’ve known that’s not true for years, but as the fight for $15 ramps up across the country, a new study shows just how far from reality that “common knowledge” really is.
Rather than being mostly teenagers, 53% of workers who would benefit from bringing the minimum wage to $15 an hour are between the ages of 25 and 54. These workers are, usually, the chief breadwinner in their family, with one-third being married. In fact, just 9% of the nearly 40 million workers who would benefit from raising the minimum wage are teenagers. What these means is that the vast majority of workers who would see their lives improved through raising the minimum wage aren’t kids working for school uniform money– they’re adults in their peak earning years, and disproportionately more likely to be women and people of color.
These numbers should make passing the Raise the Wage Act even more of an imperative for politicians on both the left and the right. If successful, it would be the first major win for increasing the income of workers nationwide in a decade. The bill would immediately raise the federal minimum wage to $8.55 in 2019, and increase it to $15 an hour by 2024. It would continue to adjust the minimum wage every year to keep stride with inflation, and also phase out the lower minimum wage for tipped workers, which has been stuck at $2.13 an hour since 1991.
It’s hard to overstate the transformative impact this bill would have on the lives of millions of Americans. But besides the fact this raising the federal minimum wage would put more money into the pockets of millions, it would also send an infusion of cash into local communities, hugely stimulating the American economy. After all, consumer demand drives growth, and right now the 40% of Americans who earn less than $15 an hour are not able to participate in their local economies to their fullest extent. With higher wages, these workers will have increased spending power, benefiting themselves and the businesses, big and small, that service them.
This is why my wealthy counterparts should all be in favor of raising the minimum wage – rich people need a prosperous middle class to shop at their stores and patronize their businesses. It’s this kind of growth that reaches working class Americans that will improve the country’s economy as a whole and leave everyone better off. The only thing standing in the way of our country having a more robust economy is misinformation and opposition from the few powerful businesses whose existence relies on paying workers subsistence wages (often subsidised by taxpayer funded welfare programs).
The longer those against against a living wage can diminish it as just a boost for teens and not a win for families or the American economy as a whole, the longer millions of Americans and their communities will suffer. Not only is this short-sighted, but it’s anti-American. It’s time for the richest country in the world to ensure all workers can live in dignity and support themselves and their families on a full-time job. In return, the economy will thrive, and all Americans will be better off.
Morris Pearl is a former managing director at BlackRock, Inc. and Chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, a coalition of high-net worth Americans concerned about the destabilizing concentration of wealth and power in the U.S.