$15 minimum wage is great politics

Posted on February 24, 2021

Some “moderate” political leaders are shying away from a $15 per hour minimum wage because they have the impression that, politically, it’s a bridge too far. They’re wrong! A $15 minimum wage is popular and more motivating than $10, $11 or $12.

(FYI, Senator Mitt Romney has recently proposed a $10 minimum wage while Senator Joe Manchin has said he’d support $11.)

The purpose of this column is not to make obvious points about the merits of a higher minimum wage. Substantively, it has been well established by EPI and others that $15 is in line with both history and our current economic needs. Rather, let us consider three points about the politics of this legislation:

1) Republicans are becoming a far more blue-collar party.

Here’s what NBC News recently found:

Data from the NBC News poll shows that the composition of the two major parties is changing, and one massive shift is coming in employment: the kinds of jobs Democrats and Republicans hold. There are signs across racial and ethnic demographic groups that Republicans are becoming the party of blue-collar Americans and the change is happening quickly.

To be specific, that data says that blue-collar voters who call themselves Republicans has grown by 12 points since 2010 while blue-collar voters who call themselves Democrats has declined by 8 points. Progressives need to turn this around.

2) A $15 per hour minimum wage is very popular.

An in-depth poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 67 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, including 41 percent who support it strongly. Only 33 percent oppose such an increase, including only 15 percent who strongly oppose it. You can hardly find a more compelling political issue.

Naturally, 86 percent of Democrats favor a $15 per hour minimum wage. But significantly, 43 percent of Republicans favor it as well. Among key demographic groups, 93 percent of Black Americans support it, as do 73 percent of Latinos.

In addition, the popularity of a $15 per hour minimum wage is not theoretical, it was dramatically proven during the November 2020 election. Florida held a statewide referendum on increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour and it was approved by a margin of 61-to-39 percent. These are the exact same voters who voted for Trump over Biden by a 3 percent margin. In other words, about ten percent of Florida voters—more than one million of them—supported both Trump and the minimum wage!

In fact, the minimum wage didn’t do much good for Democrats in Florida because they hardly mentioned it during the campaign. What a wasted opportunity!

3) When we increase the minimum wage target, it greatly increases how many Americans it benefits.

Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025 would lift pay for nearly 32 million workers, which is 21 percent of the U.S. workforce, according to the Economic Policy Institute. If we limit the minimum wage increase to $10 or $11 or $12, it would benefit many millions fewer Americans.

More politically important, the voters who benefit disproportionately live in swing states. That’s because solid blue states representing approximately 40 percent of the U.S. workforce—like California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Virginia—have approved raising their minimum wages to $15 an hour.

The Americans who benefit most are in purple states like Georgia, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin where the current minimum wage is $7.25, Ohio where it is $8.80, Nevada where it is $9, and Michigan where it is $9.65.

Michigan is a great example. Sixty percent of Michigan jobs pay less than $20 an hour and 40 percent pay less than $15 an hour, according to Michigan Future a highly-respected nonpartisan policy organization. Politically, we need to reach these people.

Sure, a poll will typically say that a larger percentage of Americans favor $12 than $15 per hour. But this issue is only going to motivate voters to change sides if it affects them directly. The higher the number, the bigger the win—both in terms of policy and politics.