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Low-Paid Workers Get a Pandemic Pay Raise

Restaurant, supermarket employees among those receiving average $15/hour, but millions still aren't
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 9, 2021 8:00 AM CDT
Pandemic Perk: More $15-per-Hour Jobs
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Kiwis)

(Newser) – For years, US workers have fought for a minimum wage of $15 per hour. Now, thanks to the pandemic and companies' struggle to find workers, that's the least that many workers will accept. Almost 80% of US workers now bring in a minimum of $15 an hour, a substantial increase from the 60% of workers who were making at least that much in 2014, per the Washington Post. One group of workers in particular, those in restaurant and supermarket jobs, surpassed an average pay of $15 per hour for the first time ever. Large companies such as CVS, Walmart, and Target are raising their minimum wage to at least that amount for some workers to to keep pace, and experts don't think that bump will vanish once the pandemic is over. "It wouldn't be fair to call $15 an hour the new minimum, but I think it's a guiding star wage," Nick Bunker of the Indeed Hiring Lab tells the Post, calling it a "baseline wage that folks compare offers to."

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The federal minimum wage remains at $7.25, and no state yet offers a $15 minimum wage, though the District of Columbia upped its minimum wage to $15.20 last month. While the AP notes that workers in the restaurant, retail, and travel industries in particular are hitting that $15-an-hour benchmark, a few low-paying industries still haven't cracked that, including workers at convenience stores and cafeteria and buffet lines. That the focus seems to center on $15 specifically is "not a coincidence," a University of Minnesota economist tells the AP: "It's the number that those activists and workers put on the table 10 years ago, and built a movement towards." Still, about 17 million workers are expected to continue earning less than that even by 2025, per the Congressional Budget Office, and a new report shows that $15 an hour isn't livable for families anywhere in the US, per US News & World Report. (Read more minimum wage stories.)

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