What a $15 Minimum Wage Could Do for New Orleans

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As part of his COVID-19 relief bill, President-elect Joe Biden announced that he will seek to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.

“No one – no one – should work, as millions are doing today, 40-hours a week at a job and still live below the poverty line,” Biden said when unveiling the plan last week. His words echo those of former President Franklin Roosevelt when he unveiled the federal minimum wage as part of the National Industry Recovery Act in 1933:

“It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By ‘business’ I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers, I mean all workers, the white-collar class as well as the men in overalls; and by living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level – I mean the wages of decent living.”

If Biden is able to follow through and pass his recovery plan through a closely-divided Congress, this could mean a raise for more than 17,000 New Orleans workers who work in Hospitality, Tourism, and Performing Arts. Across Louisiana, more than 50 percent of the state’s workers could receive a raise should the measure pass.

The federal minimum wage has not seen an increase since 2009, prompting many states and cities to raise the local minimum wage on their own. However, Lousiana has no minimum wage. Gov. John Bel Edwards has tried (and failed) for five years to establish a state minimum wage. In 2020, Edwards proposed a state minimum of $9 per hour which would have boosted to $10 per hour this year and would have been tied to inflation. However, the plan fizzled out after facing strong opposition in the state’s majority-Republican legislature.

According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, a single adult needs to make a minimum of $12.01 in order to support themselves in Orleans Parish. A single adult with one child needs to make $24.73. A couple with one child need each parent to make $13.66. A $15 minimum wage has the potential to lift thousands of individuals and families in New Orleans out of poverty.

“Many of America’s frontline workers – the men and women who keep our nation functioning – earn the minimum,” State Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) pointed out to The Advocate|Times Picayune. “Their work must be valued. Minimum wage workers keep us afloat, especially in time of crisis.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, retail businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies, as well as fast-food restaurants have remained open, forcing low-wage employees to continue to work in spite of the risks to their health.

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