Talk about raising federal wages moves to action, but barriers remain.
Late last month, Congressional Democrats introduced legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. The bill, the Raise the Wage Act of 2019, calls for a gradual increase, reaching $15 per hour by 2024. Six years after enactment, and each subsequent year, the minimum wage would increase based on the percentage increase, if any, in the median hourly wages of all employees. The bill would also would phase out sub-minimum wages for tipped, youth, and disabled workers.
The minimum wage has been $7.25 since July 2009. A wage increase would impact many employees in post-acute and long-term care, including nursing assistants and other aides, buildings and grounds staff, housekeepers, and food service workers. Low wages in this industry can be challenging for workers; and many rely on public assistance to supplement their incomes. In fact, approximately half of home care workers and 38% of nursing assistants receive public assistance such as Supplemental Nutritional Assistance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Medicaid.
Not only could a pay raise reduce employees’ dependence on public assistance, research also suggests that it could allow workers to afford health-improving products, result in greater job satisfaction, and increase economic incentives to work more hours (which could either improve or harm health, depending on the worker and the job). Evidence also indicates that a wage hike could help decrease negative health behaviors such as smoking and result in healthier birthweights among infants of low-wage workers.
Of course, a minimum wage increase also would impose costs and burdens on providers, causing them to raise prices for services or reduce staff and cut benefits.
While this bill has a good chance of passing the House, it is unlikely to make it through the Republican-led Senate, at least not this fiscal year. In the meantime, many states and cities have already enacted minimum wage hikes, and workers in several states saw increases early this year. In Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Missouri, and Washington, wages were raised via ballot measures. In New Jersey, Ohio, South Dakota, Vermont, Alaska, Florida, Minnesota, and Montana, the wage uptick was the result of automatic adjustments for inflation.