Photo of a cashier working at a fast food restaurant

Many teens work minimum wage jobs; a young worker at McDonald’s. Jeffrey Isaac Greenberg 2+/Alamy Stock Photo

Should Congress Raise the Minimum Wage?

The last time Congress raised the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour, was 14 years ago, in 2009. But states and local governments are allowed to set higher minimum rates, and 30 states and the District of Columbia have done so (see map, below). Lawmakers have introduced many bills during the past decade to raise the federal rate, but none have passed both houses of Congress. Two senators face off about whether the minimum wage should go up.

Jim McMahon

Who Earns More? Minimum wages around the nation

Millions of Americans do important work that keeps our society functioning but are not paid a living wage. They produce our food, stock our grocery shelves, keep hospitals and schools clean, care for our children, work as home health aides, and so much more.

The 1.7 million Americans who work full-time at the federal minimum wage of just $7.25 an hour earn $15,000 a year. We must be honest with ourselves: No one can meet the minimum standard of living in 2023, much less support a family, on an income of just $15,000 a year.

People who work full-time jobs shouldn’t have to struggle to keep a roof over their heads and food on their table. That is not the American dream. It’s time for Congress to do something about it. We must raise the federal minimum wage.

No one who works a full-time job in America should live in poverty.

My home state, California, has been a leader in raising the minimum wage to a livable wage. California’s minimum wage is now $15.50. And many other states—with both Democratic and Republican majorities—have also raised their state minimum wages. That’s because Americans know that one of the most straightforward ways that we can help working people is by raising the minimum wage.

California is a big state, full of diverse communities with local variations in the cost of living and local business conditions—in many ways, like the country as a whole. When California enacted a $15 minimum wage, the sky did not fall. In fact, 40 years of studies have found little to no significant impact of wage increases on employment levels.

Raising the minimum wage would give workers more money to spend in their local economies, which in turn is good for businesses. But most importantly, it would lift hundreds of thousands of families out of poverty. No one who works a full-time job should live in poverty. It’s that simple. We must stand on the side of hardworking Americans and raise the minimum wage. 


Democrat of California

In 1970, when I was 15 years old, I got my first job, as a dishwasher in a Walgreen’s grill. The job paid the restaurant minimum wage* at the time of $1.45 an hour. Like most people, I didn’t start at the top of the ladder of opportunity; I started close to—if not at—the bottom.

The job, and my performance, taught me and my employers a lot. It taught me the importance of having a good attitude, working hard, showing up on time, striving for efficiency, getting along with co-workers, and positively contributing to an organization. It taught me all work has value and helped incentivize me to obtain enough education to pursue opportunities I preferred.

Within my first year of working that minimum wage job, I was promoted three times. That job, and every job thereafter, helped me obtain better opportunities with better pay and benefits.

My experience isn’t unique. In fact, it’s generally how the world works. And that’s why I don’t think it’s a good idea to mandate a dramatically higher federal minimum wage.

Requiring a higher minimum wage would prompt employers to eliminate jobs.

Consider the economics: All things being equal, would consumers purchase more of the exact same sweater if it cost $72.50 or $150? The answer is obvious. When employers consider hiring people, they are making a decision to “buy” labor. Will employers purchase more labor if it’s priced at $7.25 or at $15 per hour? Again, the answer is obvious.

That’s why some studies project a minimum wage increase to $10.10 per hour would cost the economy between 500,000 and 1 million jobs, and a boost to $15 would cost 6 million jobs. Those workers who lose their jobs will instead earn $0 per hour.

It’s important to keep the minimum wage in perspective. In 2020, only 1.5 percent of American workers earned the minimum wage, and 48 percent of them were under the age of 25. Let’s not destroy opportunities and deprive any individual of obtaining an entry-level position that represents the first rung on their personal ladder to success.


Republican of Wisconsin

By the Numbers


YEAR that the federal minimum wage had the most buying power. The 1968 wage of $1.60 per hour was worth $12.12 in today’s dollars.

Source: Economic Policy institute


PERCENTAGE of minimum wage workers  who are 16 to 24 years old.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020)


GLOBAL RANKING of the U.S. for amount of its federal minimum wage in 2021. Luxembourg had the highest national minimum wage, $13.40 per hour.

Source: Statista

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