President Joe Biden, along with other Democrats, have voiced support for an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour.
But recent attempts — including a Senate vote on Friday to include a minimum wage hike in the President’s Covid relief package — have all failed.
Still, progressive lawmakers and activists are dedicated to the pay increase, which they say would provide millions of workers with a living wage.
“If anybody thinks that we’re giving up on this issue, they are sorely mistaken,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said Friday. “If we have to vote on it time and time again, we will and we’re going to succeed. The American people understand that we cannot continue to have millions of people working for starvation wages.”
In the lead up to the vote, many lawmakers, business executives and academics shared their views on the minimum wage. Here’s what some hourly workers and small business owners have to say:
Worker: Bettie Douglas
Bettie Douglas, 53, is a cashier at Which Wich Superior Sandwiches in St. Louis, Missouri.
She makes $10 an hour working behind the register and sometimes even prepares food. Douglas said the money she earns barely covers rent, bills and food.
“I deserve a liveable wage. Anyone who works deserves to take care of their families, feed their families, pay their bills, afford the necessities of life,” Douglas told CNN. “I’m not asking for a handout, I’m working as much as I can. $10 is just not making it, and $15 isn’t going to really make it either but at least it’ll help.”
Douglas said her low income impacts nearly every aspect of her life.
For example, she said her home appliances are breaking down and she can’t afford a technician to repair them, her home doesn’t have heat, and she can’t remember the last time she visited a doctor’s office.
“It’s really rough out here,” Douglas said. “I would love to talk to people who are against raising the minimum wage and see how long they could live off $10 an hour. Walk in my shoes, you wouldn’t survive for a day.”
Owner: Ji Hye Kim
Ji Hye Kim, 43, owns Miss Kim, a Korean restaurant, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Kim, the owner and chef, said she fully supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. She currently pays staff $12 an hour, but some earn even more with tips. The minimum wage in Michigan is $9.65 an hour.
“I’ve been a minimum wage worker before, I’ve been a tipped minimum wage worker, I’ve been $1 over the minimum wage, so when I opened the restaurant I decided we would pay people more than the minimum wage,” Kim told CNN. “All I can say is it’s always been a strength, not a weakness. There have been challenging moments but it has saved us money in the long run.”
Kim said paying staff more than minimum wage has helped reduce employee turnover and keep them motivated during difficult times, like the coronavirus pandemic.
She said most owners don’t realize that a proposed increase in the minimum wage would happen slowly over a number of years so that businesses can adjust.
“If you think about having a long term employee and they’re staying with you year after year and you’re not willing to go $1.50 an hour up every year, it’s shortsighted and ridiculous,” Kim said. “We are called the hospitality industry and we’re being so inhospitable to our own. Taking care of the most struggling in the economy is the right thing to do and it’s the smartest thing to do for the economy.”
Worker: Andre Benoit
Andre Benoit, 22, is a cashier and server at Ionies Caribbean Kitchen in Grayson, Georgia.
He makes $10 an hour and is trying to pay his way through college. The money he earns is also put toward rent, bills and other necessities, like a $132 medication he needs to survive.
“Raising the minimum wage to $15 is actually a life changer,” Benoit told CNN. “If I was making $15 an hour, life would be easier and there would just be more money to have instead of struggling half the time for food and to pay bills.”
Benoit said he works every hour he can, but sometimes his checks come out to less than $300, leaving him scrambling to survive until the next payday.
“[After bills] I’m pretty much left with nothing and the cycle just restarts the next month,” he said.
Owner: Chuck Van Fleet
Chuck Van Fleet, 55, owns Vino Grille & Spirits in Fresno, California.
He said raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would “cripple” businesses, especially in the restaurant industry, which has suffered during the pandemic. In California, the minimum wage is $13 to $14 an hour, depending on the number of people a business employes.
“It will cause all suppliers to raise prices. When cost goes up, the restaurant needs to raise prices,” he said. “That brings into question, ‘How much is the public willing to pay for a meal?'”
Van Fleet believes an increase in the minimum wage would result in widespread closures and layoffs.
He said people should understand that some jobs aren’t meant to provide a living wage.
“Minimum wage is meant to be a starting wage not a living wage,” Van Fleet said. “A minimum wage is there so we can hire people with little to no experience and train them for future higher paying positions.”
Worker: Latonya Jones-Costa
Latonya Jones-Costa, 48, is a home care worker at God’s Appointed Time in Jonesboro, Georgia.
She is paid $10 an hour and has been a home caregiver for 23 years. The mother of one says it’s “her calling.”
Jones-Costa works about 30 hours per week, but said the money she earns isn’t enough to support her family.
“Everything is going up but minimum wage,” she said. “The price of rent, your lights, your gas, your cable, all the necessities we need, are going up but the pay is not. We have been fighting for the minimum wage to be raised for so long now, and no one is fighting for us. We can’t afford to live like this anymore, we can’t afford to fight any longer.”
Jones-Costa said it’s tough being an essential worker during a pandemic, especially since she can’t afford medical insurance for her family.
“I don’t feel like I should have to struggle this hard when I’m caring for other individuals,” she said. “This is a tough job, we grow to love our clients just to lose them, and for someone to go through that again and again, it takes a special kind of person. But we are still underpaid, and even more unappreciated.”
Owner: Krista Melone
Krista Melone, 36, owns Zefir Coffee in Lincoln City, Oregon.
At $12 an hour, the minimum wage in Oregon is higher than many places. But Melone said it’s still not high enough.
“Raising the federal minimum wage is something we fully support, although how it is implemented would definitely impact how our business is run,” Melone told CNN. “Minimum wage in Oregon increases in July to $12.75, and in 2022 will increase to $13.50. The graduated plan that Oregon has implemented allows us to hit these new requirements over time, rather than overnight.”
Melone said she has a plan in place to gradually raise her coffee shop’s prices so that she can also increase employee wages.
“Seeing a similar process with a higher federal minimum wage would allow our customers to adjust to the new prices of our products over several months, or a few years,” she said.
Worker: Reneen Muqbel
Reneen Muqbel, 19, is a server at Mikes Pizza Shoppe in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Muqbel earns $8 an hour, balancing work alongside her university studies. Her parents help with tuition and she lives at home, but said it’s still difficult to make ends meet.
“Being 19 and having to pay for things adults pay for, just bills and car insurance while being in school, I’m always scrambling for money and worrying about not making enough for the next paycheck,” Muqbel told CNN.
“Getting a higher minimum wage will let me work less hours and still make enough to pay my bills and necessities and go to school,” she added.
Still, Muqbel worries about the impact an increase in the minimum wage could have on struggling businesses, especially during the pandemic.
“It’s important for certain groups of people, especially those who lost their jobs during the pandemic or never got stimulus checks, but if you look at it from a business standpoint and you’re the owner, how’s it going to affect them? It’s a sticky situation,” she said.
Owner: Gina Schaefer
Gina Schaefer, 50, owns A Few Cool Hardware Stores in the Washington, DC, area.
Schaefer pays all her employees a starting wage of $15 an hour. Minimum wage in Washington is already $15 an hour. But in Maryland and Virginia, where some of her 13 stores are located, it’s significantly less.
She said the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour isn’t high enough.
“The current federal minimum wage comes to just $15,000 for full-time work, which is not enough for even one person to make ends meet across the country, much less support a family or get ahead in life,” Schaefer told CNN.
Paying her staff $15 an hour has had a positive impact on her business, Schaefer said.
“We consistently have a lower than average employee turnover rate, high employee satisfaction reports and positive annual sales growth at most of our locations, and we attribute this in part to paying higher wages than our competitors,” she said.
An increase in the minimum wage could also help the US economy, Schaefer said.
“If the federal minimum wage was enough to keep workers out of poverty we would have a stronger economy and would be better able to get back to growing our broad middle class,” she said.