What Biden and Harris are proposing:
Back in 2016, doubling the national minimum wage was a key point of contention between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders. In the four years since, the party establishment has come around to Sanders’ view. During the primary, all the major Democratic candidates called for a $15 national wage floor — Biden included. In his first speech as a 2020 candidate, the former vice president told a crowd in Pittsburg that the wage hike is “well past time” and that “it’s time to start rewarding work over wealth.”
That shift reflects the influence of the “Fight for $15” campaign that labor unions have waged around the country.
What California is doing:
California was the first state to approve a $15 minimum wage when lawmakers and then-Gov. Jerry Brown cut a deal with labor unions in 2016. The unions agreed to take a minimum wage measure off the ballot if the state passed a law increasing wages. Brown won a provision that allows the state to suspend wage increases during economic downturns. California’s law gradually phases in wage increases over eight years, with a $15 minimum required at all businesses in 2023. In July, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that despite the pandemic-induced economic downturn, he would not delay the next hike, slated for January 1, 2021.
How’s it going here?
Critics said the forced raises would lead employers to lay off people and replace them with machines—as one Los Angeles business owner did when he learned he’d have to pay his dish washers more. But empirical research suggests that for the most part, pay increases are not pushing people out of jobs. An economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, studied seven states, including California, that have raised wages and found minimal impact on employment. However, we haven’t yet hit the $15 requirement. In 2020, the state’s minimum wage is $13 for workers at companies of 26 employees or more, and $12 at smaller businesses.
A more recent study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that a $15 federal minimum would boost the income of 27 million workers, but come at the expense of 1.3 million jobs.