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The Hill: A $15 minimum wage is exactly what our economy needs

This week, Democrats in the House have the chance to end poverty wages and increase paychecks for 27 million American workers.

There’s no excuse not to get this done.

Democratic candidates around the country ran on a $15 minimum wage. In 2018, Arkansas and Missouri -- not exactly bastions of liberal politics -- voted overwhelmingly to raise their minimum wages.

And the latest studies have shown unequivocally that raising the minimum wage is a boon to society overall -- stimulating the economy, decreasing poverty-related stress, and increasing productivity.

Despite conservative fearmongering and doomsday predictions, the Raise the Wage Act, introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), is a popular and singularly effective way of combating income inequality, putting money in the pockets of hardworking families who are barely getting by, and boosting the economy.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, which released a report on raising the minimum wage just last week, lifting wages to $15 an hour would put an estimated $7.7 billion in the pockets of families living below the poverty line.

And it’s not just minimum wage workers who would see a bump in their paycheck. The CBO predicts that a $15 minimum wage would have a ripple effect on wages, swelling paychecks not only for cashiers and receptionists, but also for store managers, pharmacy techs and security guards. Ten million workers earning more than $15 an hour would see their wages go up.

When low-wage workers get a boost to their paychecks, those wage increases go right back into the economy as they spend more. When they spend more, businesses do better. And when businesses do better, the economy does better, too.

A minimum wage increase would help address one of the most persistent weaknesses in our economy: stagnant wages. Despite soaring stock prices and skyrocketing executive pay, the purchasing power of working class families has barely budged over the last four decades.

According to the CBO, hiking the minimum wage to $15 an hour would result in an average annual wage increase of $600 for workers at or near the poverty line. Unlike the Trump tax scam, which yielded essentially no wage increase to working class families, a minimum wage increase would function as an economic stimulus by putting money in the pockets of folks who need it most – and who are most likely to spend it.

There is also an enormous cost to our economy and families of not raising the minimum wage. Last month, we set a new record in Congress – marking the longest stretch in American history without a minimum wage hike. It’s been over a decade since the national minimum wage of $7.25 went into effect. Because of rising living costs, the federal minimum wage is now worth 17 percent less than it was ten years ago. In practice, that amounts to roughly a $3,000 pay cut over the last decade for some of the lowest paid workers in America.

Let’s be clear: Americans are already paying for the public cost of poverty wages – through Medicaid, food stamps, subsidized housing and child care. A 2015 study from the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education found that low wages paid by big businesses – including fast food restaurants and big box stores – were costing taxpayers $153 billion annually.

Poverty wages drag down the economy, hurt low-wage workers and their families, and cost taxpayer dollars. The big corporations that get away with paying poverty wages while raking in profits are the only ones who benefit.

It’s impossible to calculate the full impact of poverty wages on our economy – the decades-long cost of lost opportunities, increased instability, worsened health outcomes and toxic stress. But it’s clear that Congress should and can do more to increase wages and ensure our economic prosperity reaches all families. That starts with raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour – thereby lifting 1.3 million people out of poverty by 2025.

The Raise the Wage Act is an opportunity for Congress to restore dignity to work and stability to the lives of millions who work hard every day for less and less. In an economy where the rich get richer and everyone else gets left behind, a $15 minimum wage is essential to begin leveling the playing field.

Pocan and Jayapal are co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus.