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Congress Has Set the Record for Longest Stretch Without a Minimum Wage Increase

It’s costing low-paid workers thousands of dollars a year.

By Alexia Fernández Campbell

On the day of a Republican presidential debate, striking workers attend a rally in Upper Senate Park with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to call for a minimum wage of $15 per hour, November 5, 2015. Many of the low-wage workers hold jobs on Capitol Hill.
Capitol Hill workers rally for a $15 minimum wage on November 5, 2015, in Washington, DC.

Congress set a record this month: It’s now been more than 10 years since lawmakers have raised the federal minimum wage, the longest period in history that it’s stayed stagnant.

The current $7.25 minimum hourly rate was set in 2009, right in the middle of the Great Recession. Since then, America’s lowest-paid workers have lost about $3,000 a year when you consider the rising cost of living, according to calculations from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

In 2018, about 1.7 million people were working jobs at or below the federal minimum wage. The vast majority of them are adults, not teenagers.

This chart sums up the direct impact of congressional inaction on minimum wage earners’ paychecks:

As the economy recovered from the economic downturn in the late aughts, the richest Americans have only gotten wealthier, while nearly everyone else has gotten poorer. And under the Trump administration, income inequality has gotten even worse. Compensation for CEOs has skyrocketed, while minimum wage workers in many states now need to work at least two full-time jobs to make a living.

So it’s not a surprise that McDonald’s workers have been protesting, striking, and even going to jail to get lawmakers’ attention for the past five years. In fact, fast-food workers have been instrumental in pressuring states to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. So far, seven states have.

But what they really want is for Congress to raise minimum pay in every state to $15 an hour. A McDonald’s employee from Illinois recently testified at a congressional hearing, urging lawmakers to pass a bill that would double the federal wage floor. The fact that more than 10 years have now passed since the last time lawmakers increased the rate puts renewed pressure on Congress to take action, and many say a $15 minimum wage is the most obvious solution to lift millions of families out of poverty.

[Read on]