Viewpoint: Workers, voters, and economists agree: it’s time for a $15/hour minimum wage in Delaware
Last month, I introduced a bill in the Delaware General Assembly to gradually raise our state’s minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour – legislation supported by every Democrat in the State Senate.
We’ve already seen pushback from corporate special interests and their lobbyists, whose job is to fight any wage increases for our lowest-paid workers. They will do their best to make you believe that the very people deemed essential during this pandemic do not deserve $15 an hour, or that businesses can only survive if they pay these workers a starvation wage. These voices aren’t simply arguing against popular opinion and the greater good, they’re wrong on the facts too.
Americans overwhelmingly agree that the current federal minimum wage is too low (83% according to a recent Harris poll) and even before the pandemic, in mid-2019, Pew found that two-thirds of Americans supported a $15/hour minimum wage. Along the way, it has only become clearer that minimum wage workers deserve better and that we can all benefit from raising the wage now, not later.
Let’s start with a basic fact: the cost of living goes up every year. You don’t need an advanced degree in economics to know this. At kitchen tables in every corner of our state, Delawareans confront rising costs while bringing home paychecks that don’t keep pace with inflation. Everything from food and utilities to healthcare, education, and eldercare has increased in cost. Workers who don’t get raises at the same rate are feeling the squeeze. Workers around the country who are making as little as $7.25 an hour are being buried completely.
When Republicans like U.S. Senator John Thune speak out against a $15/hour minimum wage by citing the $6/hour they made a generation ago, they’re showing every American worker how out of touch opponents of this legislation are. Thune’s hourly wage adjusted for inflation would be $24 today. He’s making our argument for us: this raise is long overdue.
Luckily, while Congress has stalled for years, states have stepped up. In Delaware and 28 other states, local minimum wages are set higher than the federal minimum. On March 18, I’m proud to say, the Delaware State Senate passed my legislation that would move Delaware’s minimum wage to $15/hour by 2025. I’m optimistic about the bill’s prospects in the House of Representatives.
The data tells us we must act. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculates living wages for states and cities based on a wide variety of factors including housing, healthcare, transportation, taxes, and more. They estimate our statewide living wage for a single adult with no children to be $15.67 – almost exactly where my bill aims to take us.
We also have data from cities and states who have beaten us to the punch – the best-possible indicator of what to expect from our own efforts. Here’s what the most-recent meta study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst has to say:
Overall, existing research therefore points to a muted effect of minimum wages on employment, while suggesting that minimum wages significantly increase the earnings of low paid workers. Especially for the set of studies that consider broad groups of workers, the overall evidence base suggests an employment impact of close to zero.
In short, despite what opponents will say, there is every reason to expect a net benefit for all parties involved, especially in the long run. It’s not rocket science – when workers earn more, they spend more in the local economy. Short term labor cost increases will be offset by a new cohort of customers with newfound spending power. That’s why steadily raising the minimum wage to $15/hour benefits workers and businesses alike.
We know that Delawareans support a $15 minimum wage. We know that this wage will lift workers and families out of poverty. We have the data to back us up and the support to get it done. It’s time to raise the minimum wage. Delaware’s essential workers have waited long enough.
Sen. Jack Walsh represents the 9th Senate District, which includes Christiana and portions of Newark, Pike Creek, Stanton and Newport. He currently serves as chair of the Senate Labor Committee.