The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired an outpouring of gratitude for essential workers, whose critical and often low-paid work has kept the country functioning. Millions of these essential workers have risked their health on the COVID-19 frontline, while thousands have lost their lives.
For months, leaders in Washington have said it is not enough just to praise essential workers—we must also pay them. In the long run, the best way for Congress to do this is to—finally—raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
A $15 per hour federal minimum wage would disproportionately benefit the country’s essential workers. Using our colleagues Adie Tomer and Joseph W. Kane’s essential worker classification and 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we find that essential workers comprised approximately half (47%) of all workers in occupations with a median wage of less than $15 an hour.
The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted the indignity that millions of essential workers face, as they perform jobs vital to the country without earning a wage that allows them to meet their basic expenses. Even as low-wage essential workers perform jobs that allow the rest of us to survive, their meager pay makes it difficult for millions of them to survive.
Public opinion surveys show that support for a higher minimum wage has grown during the pandemic, including among an increasing number of Republicans. Even in a divided country, an overwhelming majority of Americans support a $15 minimum wage.
Raising the minimum wage would narrow the enormous gap between the value that essential workers bring to society and the extremely low wages they earn in return. When nonessential businesses and employment shut down, it is their work that keeps us fed, safe, healthy, and moving. And long after the health risks of the pandemic subsides, their work will still be essential.
Read the full article about raising the minimum wage by Molly Kinder and Laura Stateler at Brookings.
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