$15 minimum-wage movement sets sights on more states

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Source:   —  April 02, 2016, at 6:10 PM

Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, RI and WA are among the states with active “Fight for $15” efforts, and even economic experts who oppose the increased rate look it gaining momentum.

$15 minimum-wage movement sets sights on more states

CA and New York – where almost one in fifth Americans live – are on their way to raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour, and the activists who spearheaded those efforts are presently setting their sights on other similarly liberal, Democratic-led states.

Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, RI and WA are among the states with active “Fight for $15” efforts, and even economic experts who oppose the increased rate look it gaining momentum.

“There is lots of pressure to do this,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office director who's presently president of the conservative American Action Forum, which says huge minimum-wage increases cost jobs.

The idea faces headwinds in more conservative and rural states in the S and the Midwest. But activists believe the movement is picking up steam, even if their two large victories so distant were achieved in two highly receptive places: trend-setting, liberal, labor-friendly states with a high cost of living and yawning gaps between wealthy and poor, particularly in NY City and Silicon Valley.

“In the beginning, it looked impossible,” said Alvin Major, a fast-food worker and boss of the Fight for $15 campaign. But now, “what happened in New York, in California, it’s going to spread around the country.”

Since the $15-an-hour movement planted roots with a two thousand twelve NY City quick food workers strike, it's gained ground amid the broader debate over income inequality. Cities such as Seattle, LA and San Francisco have recently agreed to go to $15 in the coming years, and Oregon’s minimum wage is headed to $14.75 in Portland.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been pushing for a $15-an-hour standard nationally, while President Barack Obama has called more generally for raising the minimum wage. The federal minimum is currently $7.25; twenty-nine states and Washington, D. C., have set theirs higher.

Sanders’ primary opponent and a former NY senator, Hillary Clinton, has supported raising the federal minimum wage to $12. Her campaign website says she also believes “we should go further than the federal minimum through state and local efforts, and by workers organizing and bargaining for higher wages, such as the Fight for 15…”

NY and CA are presently on track to have the highest. CA Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, is set Monday to sign a measure boosting the current $10 rate to $15 by two thousand twenty-two.

In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have agreed on a more complex plan. The $9 minimum would gradually rise to $15 in NY City by the finish of two thousand eighteen and then in some prosperous suburbs by the finish of two thousand twenty-one, but only to $12.fifty in two thousand-twentieth in the rest of the state, with further increases to $15 tied to inflation and other economic indicators. The measure headed to Cuomo’s desk after passing the Legislature on Friday.

New York’s graduated approach stemmed from negotiations with Republicans who worried such a sharp expand would devastate businesses, particularly in the more delicate economy exterior the NY metropolitan area.

Similar dynamics may play out in other parts of the country. While $15 may seem reasonable in high-paying areas, “it’s a much harder lift in low-wage areas,” said Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Middle on Budget and Policy Priorities and former adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.

Also, CA and NY have politically influential unions, powerful community organizing action and Democratic politicians anxious to translate the movement into legislation.

“That’s not going to happen in some states, particularly in the S and maybe some of the Midwest,” said Peter Dreier, a politics Prof at Occidental College.

ID lawmakers, for example, recently passed a measure barring local governments from raising the statewide minimum of $7.25, and Republicans in AZ are trying to do the same.

The income gap has been widening in every state for at least thirty years but is particularly pronounced in states with large financial or information technology industries, according to economists Label Price of the Keystone Research Middle and Estelle Sommeiller of the Institute for Research in Economics and Social Sciences in France.

The top one % of NY taxpayers, for instance, earned forty times the average income of the state’s remaining ninety-nine % in two thousand-eleventh, according to research from Univ of CA at Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez. Nationally, the top one % made twenty-four times that of everyone else; in California, the top earned twenty-six times more.

Economists have long debated the impact of raising the minimum wage, and some recent research has found that modest increases rarely cost many jobs. But the jumps to $15 are larger than those economists have certified in the past, and there are fears of widespread work losses in some places.

In NY City, Joseph Sferrazza worries that paying $15 will cost him his bakery, La Bella Ferrera. The rate is nearly double what he presently pays his employees, mostly students working portion time.

“The rent is so high, the profit edge is already so low, I don’t look how we can create it work,” he said. “You can only charge so much for a cookie.”

But $15 an hr would be a 50 % lift for Maria Velez, twenty-nine, who makes $10 an hr working at a children’s program and helps support her parents and grandparents.

“This city is crazy expensive and only getting worse,” she said. If the boost took effect immediately, “it would create my life and my family’s life better – but in five years? I can’t say.”

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