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Democrats Unveil Bill to Raise Federal Minimum Wage to $15

Bernie Sanders, Bobby Scott and others touted the legislation, though critics have issues and it's unlikely to get far

Congressional Democrats introduced legislation on Wednesday to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The Raise the Wage Act is designed to hike the minimum wage gradually until it hits $15 an hour by 2024.

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.)(shown above right) introduced the bill alongside party leadership. Democrats hope to lift more low-income workers out of financial stress while critics warn it could cause more harm than good.

“No person working full time in America should be living in poverty,” Scott said in a statement. “The Raise the Wage Act will increase the pay and standard of living for nearly 40 million workers across this country. Raising the minimum wage is not only good for workers, it is good for businesses, and good for the economy.”

The $15 minimum wage has gained popularity in recent years as progressive advocacy groups have fought to implement it. Supporters argue the policy is a great way to lift low-wage workers out of poverty. But critics say increasing the minimum wage could cause harm to businesses and employees alike.

Related: Business Owners Hit Hard by New Year’s Minimum Wage Increases

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), and others also announced their support.

Sanders (above left) has been a major advocate of the $15 minimum wage and introduced the Senate version of the bill.

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

House Democrats were able to gain a majority during the midterm elections last year. Even so, the bill is unlikely to become law since it would have to pass a Republican majority in the Senate. President Donald Trump would then have to sign the bill — which he is unlikely to do.

Those opposed warn that minimum wage hikes comes with risks that become worse the more dramatic the increase. The $15 minimum wage would be about double the current federal standard. Employers could be forced to reduce staff, increase prices or even close altogether to overcome the added cost of labor. Low-skilled individuals would get hit the hardest.

Minimum wage research has been fairly mixed in terms of impact The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and others have found the increased cost of labor is likely to reduce employment opportunities. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a free-market nonprofit, found it will also impact younger and low-skilled workers the worst.

“Research finds that a national $15 minimum wage will cost millions of workers their livelihood and impact young and low-skill individuals the most,” CEI labor policy analyst Trey Kovacs told LifeZette. “This is a solution in search of a problem, because most workers already earn above the federal minimum wage, and most who do not are under the age of 25.”

But plenty of research finds the negative impact is minimal or nonexistent compared to the benefits. The progressive Economic Policy Institute found the benefits greatly outweigh the potential downsides of raising the minimum wage.

The Center for American Progress found minimum wage hikes are necessary to offset stagnant wage growth.

“In all 50 states, data shows a single worker currently needs or will soon need at least $15 an hour to cover basic living costs,” the Economic Policy Institute said in a tweet Wednesday. “The Raise the Wage Act of 2019 would help ensure that more working people throughout the country will be able to make ends meet.”

The Fight for $15 has been at the forefront of the minimum wage debate since it started in November 2012. The group has argued that minimum wages should be raised to $15 an hour and has had success implementing the policy on the local level and in a couple of states.

Related: Ocasio-Cortez Will Pay Her Interns $15 an Hour After Complaining About It

“It’s unacceptable that women and people of color have been left behind by our economy and our policies for far too long,” Emily Martin at the National Women’s Law Center said in a statement Wednesday. “The Raise the Wage Act would address this inequity. It would end poverty-level wages and give millions of women and the families who depend on their earnings a more secure future.”

The Raise the Wage Act immediately faced opposition when backers announced their intent to introduce it. The Job Creators Network (JCN) warned the proposal would crush many small employers and guarantee fewer jobs for entry-level workers. The group ran an ad in Politico hours before the bill was unveiled that warned against the proposal.

“A $15 minimum wage will price many entry-level workers out of the job market,” Alfredo Ortiz, the group’s president, said in a statement to LifeZette. “The result will be fewer jobs and lower wages.”

The Employment Policies Institute (EPI), a conservative research nonprofit, has closely tracked the impact of local minimum wages across the country. It’s released research showing the negative impact of such a move, such as businesses having to close. The group more recently compiled much of that research into an online book announced Tuesday.

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Connor D. Wolf covers Congress and national politics and can be reached at [email protected].