1.5M Michigan workers would benefit from $15 minimum wage bill teed up in U.S. House

The U.S. Capitol | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House is poised to pass landmark legislation that would hike the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and could substantially increase pay for 1.5 million Michiganders.

The legislation is co-sponsored by all seven Democratic members of Michigan’s delegation. However, the effort faces steep hurdles in the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate.

House Democrats are planning to hold a floor vote on the Raise the Wage Act in July, according to Mariel Saez, a spokeswoman for U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

“Democrats ran on raising wages for American workers, and this remains a top priority for us,” Saez said.

The bill, whose lead sponsor is House Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott (D-Va.), would boost the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024. The current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, which was approved by Congress in 2007 and went into effect in 2009.

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence | Andrew Roth

The legislation cleared Scott’s committee in March and is expected to easily pass the full House. The seven Michiganders co-sponsoring the bill are: U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee (D-Flint), Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.), Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) and Haley Stevens (D-Rochester).

Lawrence said the legislation is “long overdue” and she’s proud to be an original co-sponsor.

“In the last decade, minimum wage workers have effectively taken a 17 percent pay cut and working 40 hours or more a week is not enough to support themselves or their families,” she said. “This measure gradually increases the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour over the next six years. It also repeals the sub-minimum wage for Michigan’s tipped employees guaranteeing them a full minimum wage. Thus, providing my constituents with an actual living wage and lifting many of them out of poverty.”

The minimum wage in Michigan is $9.45 an hour. A 2018 citizen-led petition drive would have raised it to $12 per hour by 2022, including tipped workers. The GOP-controlled Legislature adopted the petition, keeping it off the ballot. After the election, the Legislature dramatically scaled back the measure to $12.05 by 2030. Tipped workers see their minimum wage rise only to $4.58 by 2030.

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Many supporters of boosting the minimum wage argue that even $12 isn’t enough for workers to live on right now. The National Low Income Housing Coalition found in a 2018 report that a Michigan household needed to earn $16.85 per hour while working full time in order to be able to afford the rent on a two-bedroom home.

Gary Peters
U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow | Andrew Roth

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 presidential contender, has introduced the upper chamber’s version of the House minimum wage bill. Both of Michigan’s senators, Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) are original co-sponsors.

“Just a few short years ago, we were told that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour was ‘radical.’ But a grassroots movement of millions of workers throughout this country refused to take ‘no’ for an answer,” Sanders said in a statement.

“It is not a radical idea to say a job should lift you out of poverty, not keep you in it. The current $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage is a starvation wage. It must be increased to a living wage of $15 an hour.”

He’s not alone in the field of Democratic presidential contenders. Almost all of those vying for the party’s 2020 nomination have endorsed the $15 minimum wage.

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“This is very popular among all voters, Republican and Democratic voters,” said David Madland, a senior fellow and the senior adviser to the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress. “Stagnant wages are a major problem across the country.”

Polling earlier this year suggested that most registered voters would support raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.

If Congress ultimately boosts the minimum wage to $15 per hour, 1.5 million workers in Michigan — one-third of the state’s workforce — would see a pay increase, according to an analysis from Oxfam.

Despite the U.S. House’s likely passage of the minimum wage bill next month, it’s expected to go nowhere in the GOP-led Senate. In 2014, the Senate killed an effort to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

When he was running for reelection in 2014, now-U.S. Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) told a conference of rich conservatives he wouldn’t allow votes on the minimum wage and several other Democratic priorities if he became majority leader, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.

“We’re not going to be debating all of these gosh darn proposals,” he said.

Democrats will likely use the vote to score political points against Trump, who said on the presidential campaign trail that he would support raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour, after he previously said that wages are “too high.”

Many Republicans, including Trump’s economic adviser Larry Kudlow, are opposed to increasing the federal minimum wage. Kudlow has called the minimum wage law a “terrible idea” that hurts small businesses.

Until recently, efforts to raise the minimum wage had “more bipartisan support,” Madland said, “but the past couple of decades have been very partisan.”

He added, “The problem is our political system has been captured by the rich and businesses and they don’t want to increase the minimum wage.”

Contrary to GOP arguments, he said, “A lot of studies show that a higher minimum wage actually leads to higher employment. … You’ll significantly reduce poverty and improve the quality of life for lots of people.”

Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.
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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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