Support for a minimum wage increase is gaining traction in cities throughout the U.S. As the movement grows, more and more people are rallying around a particular number: $15. Last year, San Francisco voted in favor of Proposition J, which will raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2018. More recently, Los Angeles city council almost unanimously approved an increase in minimum wage, which will hit $15 by 2020. Seattle is currently implementing its own $15 minimum wage.
Although these cities will serve as testing grounds for the progressive economic policy, no one is certain how the experiments will turn out. A common claim is that raising the minimum wage will cause a surge in unemployment, especially because small business owners will be unable to afford paying their workers. The U.S. Department of labor has an entire “Minimum Wage Mythbusters” page that speaks out against that and other false ideas. “A review of 64 studies on minimum wage increases found no discernable effect on employment,” the page reads. “Additionally, more than 600 economists, seven of them Nobel Prize winners in economics, have signed onto a letter in support of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016.”
Just as economic theorists are uncertain whether raising the minimum wage is a good idea, voters are uncertain as to whether or not they should support it. We created a survey asking the following question: “Should the U.S. raise the federal minimum wage to $15?” The results were almost exactly even, with “No” taking a narrow victory; 51.9 percent of respondents said that the federal minimum wage should not be raised to $15, while 48.1 percent said that it should.
Another common argument against a minimum wage increase is that the law would only benefit younger workers, but 50.7 percent of 18- to 24-year-old respondents still said that the law should not be changed. The group most likely to respond “Yes,” at 60.7 percent, was 25- to 34-year-olds. A surprisingly high number of respondents making $0 – $24,999 per year (41.5 percent) answered no, compared to the 58.5 percent of the same price bracket that responded “Yes.”
The economic effects of a minimum wage increase can be debated, theorized and analyzed as much as possible, but it’s obvious that the nation’s low-income workers are in need of some sort of help (even if 41.5 percent of the low-income respondents to this survey don’t feel that way). The federal minimum wage is an appalling $7.25 per hour. The fact that cities are enacting minimum wage laws that more than double that number demonstrates that low-income workers have a difficult time surviving in this economy. Income inequality is an increasingly concerning issue, and a minimum wage increase could at least have the short-term effect of redistributing wealth the lowest level of workers.