Americans overwhelmingly agree the federal minimum wage should be increased, but many people think it should be considered separately from the next COVID-19 relief bill, according to new findings from Yahoo Finance and the Harris Poll.
President Joe Biden is pushing to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour as part of his $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, but it has proven to be one of the most controversial pieces of the proposal. Republicans have rejected the idea and Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W. Virg.) – a key moderate vote for Democrats – said he doesn’t support a $15 minimum wage either. Manchin said a minimum wage of $11 an hour would be more appropriate in West Virginia.
The last federal minimum wage increase was in 2009. In 2017, 80.4 million workers age 16 and older were paid at hourly rates, representing 58.3% of all wage and salary workers, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Most Americans support raising the minimum wage
When asked what is the highest minimum wage they would support, most people chose the range of $10-$15 an hour. Thirty-five percent — the largest share of respondents — said they’d support between $13-$15 an hour, 29% would support $10-$12 and 13% would back a hike to more than $15 an hour (which Congress is not considering).
Six percent of respondents said the minimum wage should be higher than current levels, but below $10 an hour. Three percent of respondents said they would actually lower the minimum wage. $15 an hour was the median answer.
In an interview before the survey was taken, Rep. Bobby Scott (D., Virg.) told Yahoo Finance the public largely supports the wage increase. He pointed to the states, including Republican states, like Florida, that have recently voted to raise the minimum wage. Scott has led efforts to raise the minimum wage in the House, and re-introduced the Raise the Wage Act last week. The House passed the bill last year, but the Senate never took it up.
“The only resistance, only pushback appears to be Republicans in Congress. I think many of them in the Senate that have been hiding behind Leader McConnell killing it by just not bringing it up,” said Scott. “Now we have an opportunity to vote on it when Leader Schumer brings it up for a vote, and you have a lot of Republicans who are in states who have indicated by either polling or on a referendum...overwhelming support for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.”
Many Republicans not only believe $15 an hour is too much, but that the issue is unrelated to the COVID relief efforts and should be considered separately. Sen. Susan Collins (R., Me.) told reporters on Tuesday she would support raising the minimum wage to an amount less than $15 an hour, but not in the stimulus package.
“It is not relevant to treatment or the economic recovery, or getting vaccines out. In fact it would be very difficult for the hospitality industry which has been particularly harmed,” said Collins.
The Raise the Wage Act would gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 over the course of five years.
The survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults found 83% agreed Congress should consider the wage hike separately from a COVID relief package. If Congress does increase the minimum wage, a majority of people polled said it should be increased in the future based on cost-of-living or median wages.
High earners, college educated disconnected from realities of minimum wage
Eighty-three percent of Americans agreed that a person working a full-time job at the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour isn’t making enough money to live.
People in households making more than $100,000 a year were most likely to think a full-time minimum wage job was enough for people to get by, according to the poll. Twenty-eight percent of high-earners said $7.25 an hour was enough to live on, while just 12% of those in households making less than $50,000 annually said $7.27 an hour sufficed.
College graduates also appear to be more disconnected from the realities of minimum wage, with graduates being more than twice as likely as non-graduates to say minimum wage is enough for a person to live on.
Almost three-quarters of respondents say they believe a full-time minimum wage job should keep an individual above the poverty line and allow them to afford a one-bedroom apartment. The federal poverty guideline (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) is $12,880 for one person, $17,420 for a household of two and $26,500 for a family of four. A minimum wage employee working 40 hours a week would bring in a gross income (before taxes) of $15,080.
Last year, research showed the average minimum wage worker would have to work 79 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom rental home at average fair market rent. A full-time worker making the minimum wage could only afford a one-bedroom rental in 145 counties in the United States.
“That's not right,” said Scott. “People know that we have to do something, and there's a consensus all over the country.”
Majority of Americans think minimum wage hike would help the economy
While Republicans argue the next coronavirus relief package should be more targeted and focus solely on relief efforts, Democrats make the case that raising the minimum wage would spur the economic recovery and provide more security for minimum wage workers amid the pandemic.
The poll found 59% of Americans believe raising the minimum wage would have a positive impact on the economy.
Last year, the Congressional Budget Office found that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would boost the income of millions of people, but it would also result in some job losses. The CBO is reportedly set to release new projections soon, that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) hopes will bolster his case for a wage hike.
There is a range of research about the impact of raising the minimum wage, and disagreement about how to interpret the findings. The National Bureau of Economic Research found last month that “this body of evidence and conclusions points strongly toward negative effects of minimum wages on employment of less-skilled workers.”
A quarter of respondents surveyed said a federal minimum wage should not exist at all.
Jessica Smith is chief political correspondent for Yahoo Finance, based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.