Pandemic shifts in the labor market may have given workers some power to demand better pay, but one in three Americans still earns less than $15 an hour. Campaigns to reset the federal minimum wage to this level have been ongoing for a decade, but so far only one state, California, has made this state law.
According to a 2022 analysis by Oxfam America, almost half of Black workers make less than $15 an hour, as do 60 percent of working women of color and almost six in 10 single parents.
It would be a victory for $15 to become the federal standard, or for states with high costs of living to set it as the wage floor. But even if this happened, it would not mean that these workers would have a “living wage,” enough to meet basic family needs and remain self-sufficient.
According to MIT’s Living Wage calculator, in 2021 both working adults in a family with two children would have needed to earn at least $24.16 per hour to achieve a living wage. At the federal minimum wage of $7.25, a single mother with two children would have had to work 235 hours per week.
COVID-19 made it impossible to ignore the risks and instability citizens face when their wages are out of sync with the cost of survival basics such as housing, food and health care. In recent years, a number of local governments have stepped up their programs to support workers, from enacting local minimum wage laws and pursuing wage theft to creating new offices to enforce labor laws.
The current state of these efforts is outlined in an extensive new report from The Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, the Economic Policy Institute and Local Progress.