The Fight for $15: Who’s Winning So Far?
Over the past several months fast food workers across the nation have made headlines by hosting nationwide walkouts and other demonstrations as part of what they call “The Fight for $15.” Their demands for a “living wage” of $15 have been echoed by those in cities like Seattle, San Fransisco, and Los Angeles which have all passed bills to raise the minimum wage to $15 as well as presidential candidate Bernie Sanders who has made the issue one of the cornerstones of his campaign. Now California governor Jerry Brown has reportedly struck a deal with unions to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2022. Meanwhile the aforementioned San Fransisco and Los Angeles will hit that goal by 2018 and 2020 respectively. So with one of the largest states in the union ready to raise the wage, is the fight for $15 on its way to victory?
While California is certainly an important part of the $15 story the forefront of the movement is actually further north. In January of next year large employers (those with over 500 employees) in Seattle will have to pay at least $15 an hour to their workers. Depending on their size and whether or not they offer medical benefits, other businesses could have until 2021 to hit that rate. Additionally once $15 is reached, subsequent wage hikes will be tied to inflation. The model is one that other many cities following in Seattle’s footsteps have followed and that’s why so many analysts have viewed the city as a case study. However, as you might expect in this politically divided climate, their assessments of how it’s going can vary greatly.
One of the biggest critics of Seattle’s plan is Tim Worstall of Forbes. In one recent article on the topic, Worstall points to new figures that seem to indicate that unemployment in the city is up and that the number of jobs is down. He notes that while the national unemployment rate has fallen .5% since the wage hike Seattle’s unemployment rate has grown 1%. Worstall also cites Mark Perry who, regarding the latest figures, said, “Following the first phase of wage hikes on the way to $15 and hour, it might be the case that the early evidence suggests that this is a ‘radical model for the rest of the nation to NOT follow.'”
Those on the other side argue that figures like these don’t tell the whole story. Bernie Sanders, who recently won Washington’s Democratic caucuses in a landslide over Hilary Clinton, has spoken favorably about the $15 wage instated by Seattle. Many others are saying it’s not as radical an idea as it sounds. Sanders and other’s have pointed to a 1949 bill signed by Harry Truman that nearly doubled the minimum wage (from 40¢ to 75¢) and the economic prosperity that followed. However Sanders recently admitted that prices might rise as a result of the changes but that the benefits far outweighed the risks. He was quoted by NBC News as saying “Look, the truth is yes, you may end up paying a few cents more for a hamburger at McDonalds. But you will be, if you’re that worker going from $8 or $10 an hour to $15 an hour, you’re going to be a lot better off. And I’ll tell you something else. We have 47 million people living in poverty today.”
At this point it’s probably too early to say who has the upper hand in the debate on a $15 minimum wage. Although the possibility of a state the size of California signing onto the idea does add a certain sense of inevitability, it still seems likely that this is a debate that will go from large city by large city for upwards of a decade before expanding to more rural areas (unless of course Sanders has a say). Like so many political issues before it expect to see the Fight for $15 roll on for quite some time.