The fight to raise minimum wage and the 2020 elections

The discussion of raising the federal minimum wage rate reappeared during the beginning of the pandemic, but as the election approaches it is not a key issue for many running candidates.

The current federal minimum wage rate is $7.25 and was set under the Fair Wages Act of 2007. The federal rate has not increased since it was established. In 2010, a group of fast food workers started the conversation about rising the rate to $15 an hour. The current pandemic has restarted discussion over raising the federal minimum wage in this country.

Korben Brothers is currently an employee at Target, which has a starting hourly salary of $15 an hour, and said it was the most stable hourly positions he has worked in recent years.

Target Storefront

Denton, Texas 10/7/2020 - The Super Target off of Loop 288. Target currenlty has a starting hourly wage of $15 an hour for emmployees. Many have been fighting for the federal minimum wage rate to be increased to $15 an hour versus the current $7.25 an hour rate.

"I have money to pay my bills, and I have money to live comfortably and buy myself a thing or two occasionally," Brothers said.

Mia Elise has been on unemployment after losing her job to the pandemic and believes that companies should do more to step in for their employees in financial hardships.

"Companies make enough that they can have an emergency fund set aside," Elise said.

A number of companies adopted extra pay models for their employees at the start of the pandemic but ended those benefits after a couple of months. Kroger used this approach after enacting a "Hero's Pay" which gave all employees a $2-an-hour bonus.

Denton Texas 10/7/2020 - Eli McKitrick straightens up the costume display at their job at Spirit Halloween on Loop 288. McKitrick currently makes $9 an hour at this job and also works as a barista at Starbucks where they are making $9.50 an hour.

"These are companies that were doing that they really weren't affected by the pandemic because they are places that needed to stay open to where they are still making their
normal, revenue," Elise said. "A one-time bonus for a seven month pandemic, wasn't really much."

Back in March the government passed the CARES Act, a relief fund for the pandemic, which included an extra $600 in unemployment benefits for those who lost their jobs. Many became angry on social media about how those on unemployment were making more than those working full-time at a minimum wage position. Elise understands the frustration but wants others to know that those on unemployment were not the problem.

"It's not really a one side versus the other," said Elise. "We have to look at the cause of it which is, minimum wage isn't high enough, not that people on unemployment were lucky or in favor or taking advantage of it."

Denton, Texas 10/7/2020 - Ashli Hart answers the phone at her job at the Golden Triangle Mall. Hart currently makes $9 an hour at the guest services kisosk in the mall.

Over the last 10 years the cost of living has increased, and minimum wage no longer takes into consideration the increased rate of economic inflation. The cost of living varies around the country, so for some places $15 an hour would be just right, too little or too much.

According to a dataset created by the Economic Policy Institute, they were able to determine the true value of the federal minimum wage if it aligned with todays inflation rate. Which would be valued at $11.62, an over four dollar increase.

In the 2016 election between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, both acknowledged the minimum wage was set too low and needed to be changed. Since then no legislation has been passed to increase the federal rate, even though the House of Representatives passed the Raise the Wage bill that would gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over a course of five years.

For the upcoming 2020 election, candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden indicated his position on worker-based issues which include strengthening worker organizer collective, bargaining and unions.

According to Biden's campaign website he "firmly believes all Americans are owed a raise, and it's well past time we increase the federal minimum wage to $15 across the country."

President Trump has had concurring opinions over the topic of raising the federal minimum wage. Back in 2019, he mentioned supporting the increase but opposed an act that would have increased the wage over time.

States have the ability to enact their own minimum wage rate or adopt the rate on a federal level. Currently 21 states, including Texas, have the same rate as the federal government.

When it comes to finding a candidate to support in the election regarding minimum wage, Elise knows decisions depend on the one casting the ballot and their current situation.

"I think for economic reasons it would be smart to know where people stand on that issue and know how it would affect them personally." Elise said. "I think that obviously young people and people who work hourly jobs obviously will tend to be more in favor of raising minimum wage. Because now they're like, 'okay cool now I can make twice as much as I do now.'"