USA To No Longer Pay Its Workers Less Than It Costs To Live Here
Thanks to the dual efforts of Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, the Biden administration hasn't really been able to get a lot of its infrastructure and voting rights agenda done. But that doesn't mean that we can't get a few positive changes here and there. And one of those positive changes is that those who work for the United States of America can now count on making at least $15 an hour.
The change is the result of an executive order President Joe Biden issued his first week in office, directing the Office of Personnel Management to draft a report detailing the necessary steps and guidance to get all employees of the United States of America to $15 an hour. The report found that while the vast majority of the 2.2 million people who work for the federal government were already making over $15 an hour, about 70,000 workers, mostly in the Department of Defense, were not. Those workers will see their pay increase to $15 at the end of the month.
Axios reports that the new guidance will impact "around 130 wildland firefighters, 400 plant protection technicians, 3,800 custodial workers and 50,000 DOD employees at military bases around the country," according to the OPM. Unfortunately for postal workers, this guidance does not impact U.S. Postal Service and Postal Regulatory Commission, as the OPM does not have legal authority over those entities.
This change isn't just being made out of the goodness of the federal government's heart. OPM explains in the guidance that paying less than $15 an hour will make it hard for the government to retain and recruit a qualified workforce.
OPM has reasonably determined that, for Federal employees stationed in the United States (including its territories and possessions), FWS rates of basic pay less than $15 per hour are creating or are likely to create significant recruitment and/or retention problems, supporting the creation of a special wage rate schedules for FWS employees stationed in the United States (including its territories and possessions). Accordingly, DOD will establish, with OPM’s approval, a $15 per hour minimum pay rate for appropriated fund and nonappropriated fund FWS wage schedules for employees stationed in the United States (including its territories and possessions) where any pay rate would otherwise be below $15 per hour on January 30, 2022.
This is obviously a move in the right direction, as the US should not be in the business of paying its employees less than it costs to survive in this country, and should be setting an example for all employers. The federal minimum wage has not been raised since 2007, and we are currently at the longest stretch of time the US has ever gone without raising it. As a result, the minimum wage of $7.25 is now worth two dollars less than it was than it was implemented.
Given the way things are going, it's entirely possible we may go another 15 years before it gets raised again. However, with the federal government raising its own pay rates for workers, and record numbers of states and cities raising their minimum wages to $15 or higher, we can at least get a significant amount of American workers to something approximating a living wage.
Thanks to these increases and other outside pressures, the number of Americans making the Federal minimum wage of $7.25 (or less, for tipped employees) has significantly decreased in the last few years, going from 1.9 million in 2019 to 1.5 million in 2020.
Workers and labor organizers first started pushing for a $15 a hour minimum wage 10 years ago, when $15 an hour was the base amount for a living wage in the United States. The average living wage now, according to MIT, is $16.54, but we can all agree $15 an hour is far preferable to "less than $15 an hour."
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse