Red states would gain the most from a minimum wage hike. Their representatives don't care.


'A drastic $15 federal minimum wage hike during a global pandemic would be the wrong path,' tweeted Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), whose state has a $7.25 an hour minimum wage. 

Republican lawmakers from red states are vowing to block President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, due in part to the inclusion of a provision that would increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour — even though it's their own states that would see the most significant wage increases.

Biden's bill, the American Rescue Plan, would include a revision of the Fair Labor Standards Act that would entail a gradual increase in the federal minimum wage by $1.50 a year per year, with an ultimate goal of a $15-an-hour minimum wage by 2025.

Republicans have voiced opposition to the proposal, with Sens. Tom Cotton (AR) and Mitt Romney (UT) offering a counterproposal Tuesday that would increase the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour.

Federal minimum wage currently sits at $7.25 an hour, but states have set their own minimum wage laws for years that are at times higher than the federal minimum.

Most often, blue states already have a state minimum wage well above the federal minimum. Twenty states and the District of Columbia went blue in the 2016 presidential election. Of these, 17 states have a minimum wage of $10 an hour or above, with only Nevada, New Hampshire, and Delaware below $10. Only New Hampshire has a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Conversely, of the 30 states that went red in 2016, 21 have a minimum wage of either $7.25 an hour or have no set minimum wage other than requiring employers to abide by the federal minimum.

As a result, red states will see the most significant wage increase from passage of legislation raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour — yet it's Republican lawmakers who have most strongly opposed such legislation.

Romney, who cosponsored the Republican bill proposing to curtail the amount of the minimum wage hike, hails from Utah, where his lowest-paid constituents make only $7.25 hourly.

Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi has also voiced his opposition to such legislation. "Raising the federal minimum wage to $15/hr. would cost the nation 1.4 million jobs at a time when many are already looking for work," he tweeted last week. "Above all, Congress needs to focus on helping rather than undermining our recovery."

Sen. Tim Scott (SC), whose constituents also have a minimum wage of $7.25, tweeted that "small businesses are the backbone of our rural communities in SC," and claimed that "a $15 minimum wage would destroy their businesses & decimate small towns across the Palmetto State in the midst of a pandemic."

Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa has also opposed the hike, tweeting, "Increasing wages for Iowa workers is something that I believe we can and should work on, but a drastic $15 federal minimum wage hike during a global pandemic would be the wrong path."

But Pew Research shows that two-thirds of Americans are in favor of increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The federal minimum wage in the United States hasn't been raised since 2009, and adjusted for inflation, has actually decreased in purchasing power since then. For a low-wage employee working 40 hours a week, the federal minimum wage amounts to $15,080 a year — below the federal poverty level if the individual has even a single dependent in the household.

Lawmakers from red states tend to point to the same talking point: the 1.4 million workers that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated could lose jobs by 2025 with the proposed hike. But the Economic Policy Institute has disputed this finding, arguing that such a raise would have a net positive effect on poverty and only a negligible impact on unemployment levels.

Moreover, the CBO also found that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would lift nearly a million Americans out of poverty and would raise employee pay by $333 billion for 17 million American workers. The office also found that the federal government, as a result, would spend less on food assistance programs.

Other estimates say such an increase would raise worker pay for 40 million American workers.

Studies have also shown that in areas where the minimum wage is well above the federally mandated $7.25 an hour, the effects on jobs for low-wage workers have been negligible, ranging from a 0.3% decrease in employment to a 1.1% increase.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.