Minimum Wage Momentum Continues to Surge

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File

In this April 1, 2015, file photo, students and other supporters protest on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, in support of raising the minimum wage for campus workers to $15 an hour. 

Welcome to The American Prospect’s weekly roundup highlighting the best reporting and latest developments in the labor movement. 

(Compiled by Justin Miller—Edited by Harold Meyerson

Momentum behind local minimum wage hikes continues to mount at a staggering speed, as wage policy becomes a hot topic in cities, counties, and states across the United States.

Last week, the Washington, D.C., City Council unanimously voted to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 by 2020. Labor leaders largely heralded the move as yet another win for low-wage workers in the U.S.’s big cities. The $15 minimum wage could give as many as 114,000 workers a raise in the nation’s capital. Still, some advocates criticized D.C. leaders for merely raising the tipped minimum wage—which mostly applies to restaurant servers—to $5.00 from $2.77 an hour rather than gradually eliminating it altogether, like a recently proposed ballot measure would have done.

Meanwhile, in California, cities are already working to increase their own minimum wages at a faster pace than the recent statewide increase to $15 by 2022. In San Diego, the city council had passed a minimum wage increase back in 2014, withstanding opposition from business groups and overturning a veto by the city’s Republican mayor. But business groups pushed to get that measure on the ballot, hoping that voters would strike it down. However, last Tuesday, more than 63 percent of voters approved the measure, which will immediately increase the city’s minimum wage to $10.50, to $11.50 by 2017, and with increases thereafter tethered to inflation. 

Additionally, the Cities Association of Santa Clara County—a group that represents the interests of 15 cities in Silicon Valley—voted last week in favor of a proposal that would establish a regional $15 minimum wage across Silicon Valley by 2019, three years before the state would reach that level. While the vote is non-binding, it indicates broad support among city councils in the county for raising the minimum wage at a faster pace than the state. Increasing the minimum to $15 by 2019 could increase earnings for more than 250,000 workers in Santa Clara County, according to a recent report. The cost of living rates in Silicon Valley are among the highest in the country.

In Durham, North Carolina, the city council voted to increase the wage floor for its full-time city employees to $15 an hour by 2018. The city follows the lead of nearby Greensboro, which passed a similar policy last year. Increasing city employee wages is often the only avenue for action in Republican states that prohibit localities from enacting their own minimum wages.

The Emerging New Working Class

Much of the 2016 election coverage on the rise of Donald Trump focuses on his popularity within an angry white working-class—and the implications for the labor movement. However, a new report backs up what many have already been saying: The white, blue-collar worker from the Midwest is no longer an accurate representative of the working class.

People of color will make up a majority of the American working class by 2032, according to a new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute. That means the working class will become “majority-minority” 11 years before the entire population will, based on U.S. Census Bureau projections. The analysis defines “working class” as those whose education level is less than a Bachelor’s degree.

As the Hispanic population in the U.S. surges, so too will its representation in the working class. Hispanic men will be the segment of the new working class to have grown the most. It’s projected to increase by 7.2 percent by 2032, followed by Hispanic women, who are projected to grow 4.5 percent. Meanwhile, the share of white working class women will decrease by 7.9 percent; white working class men will decrease by 5.1 percent.

Even starker, the report finds, the “older millennial” segment of the working class—workers between the age of 25-34—will become majority-minority by 2021.

As the report’s author, economist Valerie Wilson, notes, these projections emphasize the importance of a progressive agenda centrally built around not only class-based, but also race-based policies.

“Securing wage growth and greater equality by both class and race calls for sustainable working-class solidarity that supersedes the racial and ethnic tensions present among all groups of people, not just between whites and people of color,” Wilson writes. “Getting to that point requires honesty and a collective reckoning about race, white privilege, and institutional racism, with respect to the costs and benefits to each of us.

“As the United States continues to undergo this demographic shift, we have to think in terms of big structural and policy changes that help to advance greater equality, expand opportunity for all, and yield universal benefits to the economy,” Wilson continues.  

That means that traditional working-class policies like increased minimum wages, universal childcare and early childhood education, and strengthened collective bargaining rights must be coupled with robust immigration and criminal justice reform, and new voting rights protections. 

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