The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for five years, even as income inequality has more and more become a pressing issue. Yet as recently as a year ago, prospects for meaningful increase in base pay for the working poor seemed remote.
Now doubling the minimum wage is on the agenda.
Actually, that prospect just moved off the agenda and into official policy in one of America’s largest cities—Seattle—where the city council will on Monday unanimously approved implementation of a $15-an-hour minimum wage. The specific accomplishment in Seattle is strikingly significant; as Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant says, “We forced them to lift 100,000 low-wage workers in Seattle out of poverty—to transfer $2.5 billion to workers at the bottom of the wage scale over the next ten years.”
What is just as significant is the context in which it has come, after what Sawant correctly refers to as “decades of wealth being transferred almost entirely from the bottom up.”
American is experiencing remarkable progress at a rapid rate on a vital issue.
A little over a year ago, when President Obama proposed raising the wage to $9 an hour, Republicans said the sky would fall. Democrats were cautious, although a few of them, led by California Congressman George Miller and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, suggested upping the ante to $10.10 an hour.
But no one in a position of power was talking about doubling it.
That call was raised by the fast-food workers who joined “strikes, marches, boycotts and other mobilizations” in May of 2013. They made the audacious demand for a living wage, putting the figure at $15 an hour.
It was such a bold proposal that Republicans didn’t even bother to ridicule those who advanced it. Even some allies of the Fight for 15 movement saw the “ask” more as an talking point than an actual prospect.
But in cities such as Seattle, the idea took hold. Activists with the group Working Washington say the walkouts that began in late May of 2013 sparked “a new movement to ensure every worker can support themselves, afford the basics, and contribute to the economy.”