U.S. House approves bill to boost minimum wage to $15 per hour

Minimum wage workers. PBS screenshot.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Thursday voted to hike the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.

The current federal minimum wage has been stalled at $7.25 since 2009. This month marked a record for the longest period without raising the minimum wage since it was enacted.

The legislation passed the chamber by a vote of 231-199, largely along partisan lines, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans opposed.

Among Florida’s 27 representatives in Congress, 13 Democrats voted yes and 13 Republicans voted no. One Republican – U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, who represents a southwest Florida district stretching from Naples to Fort Myers – crossed party lines and voted yes.

The measure has little chance of being enacted by the Republican-led Senate, but will be widely touted by Democrats heading into the 2020 campaign season.

In Florida, the minimum wage is $8.46 per hour, slightly above the federal level. Orlando-based attorney and entrepreneur John Morgan is aiming to put a measure on the 2020 ballot that would ultimately raise it to $15.

“Workers in my district cannot be self-sufficient and support their families on this wage,” said Florida Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, who represents a district in the Orlando area that, she said, “has a relatively high cost of living and the lowest median household income of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the country.”

A $15-per-hour minimum wage stands to boost the pay of about 17 million workers nationwide, according to a recent report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Another 10 million workers otherwise earning slightly more than $15 per hour might see their wages rise as well, and the number of people with an annual income below the poverty line in 2025 would fall by 1.3 million, the report estimates.

“The Raise the Wage Act is not just good for workers, it’s good for the economy,” House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said on the House floor. Scott is the lead sponsor of the bill.

“America’s workers deserve a raise,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday ahead of the vote.

House Republicans and other critics of the legislation say it will strain small businesses and wipe out jobs.

The Congressional Budget Office analysis estimates that about 1.3 million workers — and possibly up to 3.7 million workers — could lose their jobs under a $15-per-hour minimum wage scenario. Still, the congressional analysts noted that there’s “considerable uncertainty” about how the minimum wage increase could impact employment. “Many studies have found little or no effect of minimum wages on employment, but many others have found substantial reductions in employment,” the report says.

“No family in the United States can live on $7.25 an hour and make ends meet,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.). “In my home state of Wisconsin, you would have to work 93 hours a week in order to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment, and there’s not a single county in the country where a worker earning the minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom apartment on minimum wage.”

“If the primary employer in a rural town is a multi-billion-dollar corporation like Walmart or McDonald’s,” Pocan said, “they can afford to pay their workers $15 an hour instead of holding down wages for the entire community.”

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), the top Republican on the Education and Labor Committee, called it a “radical, risky and unnecessary bill.” Boosting the federal minimum wage by 107%, she said, is a “harmful and unprecedented mandate.”

A companion measure in the U.S. Senate is being sponsored by Vermont senator and 2020 presidential contender Bernie Sanders. He’s got 31 Democratic co-sponsors, but the bill isn’t expected to see a vote under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Democrats on Capitol Hill are hoping the bill will give voters a glimpse of what’s possible if they elect a Democrat to the White House in 2020. Most of the Democrats vying for the nomination have endorsed the $15-per-hour minimum wage, Vox reported.

Michael Moline contributed to this report. 

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