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Adams, Butterfield, Price on board as U.S. House prepares to vote on $15 minimum wage

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 hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians.

But the effort faces steep hurdles in the Senate, including likely opposition from North Carolina Republicans Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, who have opposed previous efforts to raise the minimum wage.

House Democrats are planning to hold a floor vote on the Raise the Wage Act in July, according to Mariel Saez, a spokeswoman for 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 Chairman 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.

Rep. Alma Adams

The legislation cleared Scott’s committee in March and is expected to easily pass the full House. North Carolina Democrats Alma Adams, G. K. Butterfield and David Price are among the bill’s 205 cosponsors.

Adams, who is a member of the Education and Labor Committee and chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, issued a statement after the committee approved the measure back in March in which she lauded the legislation:

“Today is a day that was a long time in coming – I am proud that the Committee on Education and Labor approved a proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2024. During 20 1/2 years in the North Carolina General Assembly, I fought for our state’s minimum wage to increase to $6.15. Never would I have thought that 13 years later, Congress would have to act to raise the minimum wage from $7.25. By passing the Raise the Wage Act, we are sending the message that if you work a full-time job, you should be entitled to the dignity of a fair wage. I look forward to seeing this landmark legislation come to the floor and be approved by the full House of Representatives.”

Bernie Sanders, a Vermont senator and 2020 presidential contender, has introduced the Senate version of the House minimum wage bill.

“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,” he 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. Nearly all of those vying for the party’s 2020 nomination have endorsed the $15 minimum wage.

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, more than 1.6 million North Carolinians could directly benefit. The Workers Rights Project of the North Carolina Justice Center (the parent organization of NC Policy Watch) reported in March that:

Raising the minimum wage will help boost paychecks for more than a million North Carolinians without increasing unemployment. Over the past decade, median wages for working people in North Carolina have fallen by 10 cents an hour, which over a year adds up to paychecks that are $200 smaller in 2018 than they were in 2009. Meanwhile, costs of living like food, shelter, healthcare, and transportation continue to climb….

The Economic Policy Institute estimates that these workers would earn an average of $4,422 dollars more every year as a result of the increase. This would provide resources needed to meet basic needs like the cost of quality child care for three months or rent for five months at fair market rent. People of color — who are often excluded from higher-paying jobs due to historic exclusion, educational opportunities, and persistent discrimination in the labor market — would earn as much as $5,100 more per year, taking a significant step toward overcoming historically-rooted racial discrimination in wages.

Workers aren’t the only beneficiaries of such a policy. Businesses will directly benefit from the higher wages paid to 1.6 million new customers who are most likely to spend additional dollars every year on their goods and services. In this way, wage increases translate into higher business sales, and these sales make investment and growth of companies possible.

Robin Bravender is the Washington, DC Bureau Chief  for the Newsroom Network, of which Policy Watch is a member. Rob Schofield contributed to this report.

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