Not only is Amazon raising its own starting wage to $15 an hour in November, but the online retail giant wants to convince the U.S. government to increase the federal one, which hasn’t budged from $7.25 since 2009.
Amazon's move follows similar steps from fellow retailers, such as Target and Walmart, which earlier this year increased their starting rates. States, too, have enacted wage increases recently to help low-income workers.
But efforts on the federal level have stalled. The Raise the Wage Act of 2017, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) in May of last year, has not been sent to committee for consideration.
“Bi-partisan majorities of voters strongly back raising the minimum wage," said Paul Sonn, state policy program director at the National Employment Law Project, a research and advocacy group, "but the Republican majority in Congress has blocked any action on it.”
State by state
Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages that are higher than the federal one, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Fourteen states have minimum wages that equal the federal rate. And seven states either have no minimum wage or ones less than the federal one; in these instances, the federal minimum wage is applied in those states.
Next year, minimum wages in 20 states and Washington, D.C., will increase, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Ten are based on rises in the cost of living, while 10 states and D.C. are following step-up plans to increase their minimum wages to $12, $13.50 or $15 an hour over the next two to five years.
What a wage increase means
Amazon’s new wage will affect 250,000 of its employees – full-time, part-time and temporary workers - and more than 100,000 seasonal employees. Amazon’s lobbying efforts are focusing only on raising the current federal minimum wage from $7.25, said company spokeswoman Ashley Robinson.
“We would look to Congress to decide the parameters of a new, higher federal minimum wage,” she said.
But if $15 became the federal minimum wage, nearly one in three U.S. workers – or 41 million in total – would see an increase in their paycheck, according to NELP. “Single workers [could] begin to afford a very basic apartment, and cover necessities like gas and car payments without going deep into debt,” Soon said.
But, Soon noted, workers with children or who live in higher cost states would need even more than that to meet their basic needs.